NRA gets 1st Amendment win as Supreme Court blasts NY official who pressured banks to cut ties with gun lobby

A New York state official may have violated the First Amendment when she issued guidance to insurers about conducting business with the National Rifle Association in the wake of the Parkland mass shooting, the Supreme Court said in a ruling on Thursday.

In a narrow win for the controversial gun advocacy group, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said on behalf of a unanimous court that the NRA “plausibly alleged” the former head of the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) and their lawsuit may proceed.

The NRA filed a lawsuit in New York, accusing the former state official of overstepping her authority by coercing banks and insurers to stop working with them. But the New York 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed their claims in 2022, saying that the official’s actions did not rise to the level of unlawful.

“While a government official can share her views freely and criticize particular beliefs in the hopes of persuading others, she may not use the power of her office to punish or suppress disfavored expression,” Justice Sotomayor wrote in the opinion.

Justice rejected the New York appeals court’s decision, clearing the way for the suit to continue.

A person wears an NRA hat in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC
A person wears an NRA hat in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC (AFP via Getty Images)

The case dates back to 2018 when Maria Vullo, the former head of the New York DFS issued guidance to banks and insurance companies about conducting business with the NRA in the wake of the Parkland high school shooting which left 17 people – including 14 children – dead.

At the time, the DFS was investigating Carry Guard, an NRA-endorsed insurance program that offered to pay for civil and criminal legal fees in cases where a gun owner shot another person in self-defense.

DFS was determining whether Carry Guard was permitted under New York law, which generally does not allow insurance products to insure a person for intentional criminal acts. Three insurers later ceased to underwrite the Carry Guard policy after reaching settlements and entering consent orders.

But after the deadly high school shooting, and shortly after the Carry Guard policy investigation, Ms Vullo issued guidance, warning financial institutions of “reputational risks” and encouraging them to “review any relationships” they had with the NRA or other gun advocacy organisations.

The NRA sued, claiming Ms Vullo’s guidance was threatening and violated the First Amendment.

In an unexpected teaming-up, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argued on behalf of the NRA in March. 

“While the ACLU stands in stark opposition to the NRA on many issues, it is representing the group to safeguard the First Amendment rights of all advocacy organizations,” the ACLU wrote in a press release earlier this year.

This is a breaking news story, more follows…

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