Supreme Court Boosts NRA In Free Speech Fight With New York Official

NRA Free Speech Fight

The Supreme Court revived the National Rifle Association’s lawsuit against a New York state official accused of coercing banks and insurers to avoid doing business with the gun rights group.

The ruling, authored by liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, warned public officials against using their power to punish speech they dislike.

In a unanimous 9-0 decision, the justices overturned a lower court’s dismissal of the NRA’s 2018 lawsuit against Maria Vullo, a former superintendent of New York’s Department of Financial Services.

The case questions whether Vullo used her regulatory authority to coerce New York financial institutions into cutting ties with the NRA, violating the First Amendment’s protections against government restrictions on free speech. The NRA alleged that Vullo unlawfully retaliated against it for its gun rights advocacy by imposing an “implicit censorship regime” following the 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, which resulted in 17 deaths.

“The First Amendment prohibits government officials from using their power selectively to punish or suppress speech, directly or through private intermediaries,” Sotomayor wrote.

The NRA, a powerful lobby group aligned with Republicans, has opposed gun control measures favored by many Democrats and supported pivotal lawsuits that have expanded U.S. gun rights.


In its suit seeking unspecified monetary damages, the NRA claimed that New York’s “blacklisting” campaign aimed to deprive the NRA of basic financial services and threatened its advocacy work.

The case will now return to the lower courts for further analysis of the NRA’s allegations under the standard articulated in the Supreme Court’s ruling.

David Cole, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who represented the NRA, stated that the ruling “confirms that government officials have no business using their regulatory authority to blacklist disfavored political groups.”

Vullo, appointed by a Democratic governor, urged banks and insurers to consider the “reputational risks” of doing business with gun rights groups following the Parkland shootings. In the aftermath, NRA officials accused gun control advocates of politicizing the shootings to erode gun rights.

Vullo later fined Lloyd’s of London and two other insurers more than $13 million for offering an NRA-endorsed product called “Carry Guard,” which her office found in violation of New York insurance law. The product provided liability coverage for policyholders who caused injuries from gunfire, even in wrongful firearm use cases. The insurers agreed to stop selling NRA-endorsed products that New York deemed illegal. The NRA, a nonprofit organized under New York state law, has its main offices in Virginia.

Second Amendment

This case did not involve the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The Supreme Court heard arguments in March. A federal judge in 2021 dismissed all of the NRA’s claims except two free speech counts against Vullo. The Manhattan-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2022 said those should also be dismissed.

The 2nd Circuit found that Vullo would be protected from the suit under qualified immunity, which shields officials from civil litigation in certain circumstances. Sotomayor wrote that the 2nd Circuit “is free to revisit the qualified immunity question in light of this court’s opinion.”

President Joe Biden’s administration, despite Biden’s stance on gun violence, supported the NRA’s right to pursue its lawsuit.

One challenges the legality of a federal ban on “bump stock” devices that enable semiautomatic weapons to fire rapidly like machine guns. The other challenges the legality of a federal law that criminalizes gun possession by individuals under domestic violence restraining orders.