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Supreme Court rules in favor of NRA in key First Amendment case

The Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously decided that the National Rifle Association (NRA) “plausibly alleged” that the New York State Department of Financial Services violated the group’s First Amendment rights by blacklisting the group.

In a unanimous decision written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the high court “holds that the NRA plausibly alleged that Vullo violated the First Amendment by coercing DFS-regulated entities to terminate their business relationships with the NRA in order to punish or suppress the NRA’s advocacy.” 

“The judgment of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is vacated, and the case remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion,” the court said, allowing the NRA to continue to argue its case, overruling the second circuit’s dismissal of the suit.

The case stems from a lawsuit filed by the NRA in 2018 which questioned whether a government regulator threatens regulated entities with adverse regulatory actions if they do business with a controversial speaker, allegedly because of the government’s own hostility to the speaker’s viewpoint, violates the First Amendment.

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“Six decades ago, this Court held that a government entity’s ‘threat of invoking legal sanctions and other means of coercion’ against a third party ‘to achieve the suppression’ of disfavored speech violates the First Amendment,” the opinion states. 

“Today, the Court reaffirms what it said then: Government officials cannot attempt to coerce private parties in order to punish or suppress views that the government disfavors,” it said. “Petitioner National Rifle Association (NRA) plausibly alleges that respondent Maria Vullo did just that.”

The NRA sued then-New York State Department of Financial Services Superintendent Maria T. Vullo, who – at the order of former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo – allegedly blacklisted the NRA – effectively forcing banks and insurers to cut ties with the group.

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U.S. Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor speaking

She sent “guidance letters” in 2018 to banks and insurance companies encouraging them to sever ties with the NRA and other pro-Second Amendment organizations, citing reputational risks. The guidance letters were issued shortly after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 students and staff.

The lawsuit alleged that Vullo made “backroom threats” against regulated firms, accompanied by offers of leniency on unrelated infractions if regulated entities would agree to blacklist the NRA.

“As superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services, Vullo allegedly pressured regulated entities to help her stifle the NRA’s pro-gun advocacy by threatening enforcement actions against those entities that refused to disassociate from the NRA and other gun-promotion advocacy groups,” the court’s Thursday opinion states. 

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“Those allegations, if true, state a First Amendment claim.”

The Supreme Court in November agreed to hear National Rifle Association of America v. Vullo, after a federal appeals court in 2022 dismissed the group’s lawsuit, arguing Vullo’s actions were reasonable. 

On Thursday, the high court said the Second Circuit is vacated, and the case remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion – meaning the gun rights group can continue to argue its case in lower courts. 

The NRA garnered support from unlikely allies in the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – a group that ideologically opposes the NRA but said it is “proud” to defend the gun group’s “right to speak.”

“While the ACLU disagrees with the NRA’s advocacy, we are proud to defend its right to speak,” ACLU Legal Director David Cole, who argued the case for the NRA, said in a statement. 

“Public officials cannot be allowed to abuse their regulatory powers to blacklist an organization just because they oppose its political views. If New York is allowed to do this to the NRA, it will provide a playbook for other state officials to abuse their authority to target groups they don’t like,” he said. 

Fox News’ Shannon Bream and Bill Mears and Fox News Digital’s Emma Colton contributed to this report. 

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