Rule Five NRA First Amendment Friday

It’s a win for the NRA: On Thursday, the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the New York State Department of Financial Services’s blacklisting of the Association was illegal, a violation of the First Amendment.  Even Biden’s appointee, Justice Jackson, agreed, and one of the Court’s left-of-center justices wrote the opinion.

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.

It’s nice to see that left and right on the Court (there isn’t supposed to be a “left” and “right” on the Supreme Court, but we all know damn well that there are) agreeing on something as fundamental as the First Amendment, even where the NRA is involved.

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.

“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.”

While I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on television, this seems like a slam-dunk to me.  The New York State Department of Financial Services clearly used the regulatory power of government to pressure financial institutions within the Empire State to “blacklist” the NRA, leaving the organization without any way to manage their finances – to pay their bills, in effect, and they made that threat based solely on what the NRA’s agenda is – supporting the Second Amendment rights of American citizens.

Consider if this case hadn’t been slapped down, and if the entire Supreme Court hadn’t bitch-slapped a bunch of New York bureaucrats who were going after a legal organization for political reasons.  The floodgates would have been open; any minor official with any power over the financial or law-enforcement apparatus in any state would have felt empowered to take on any organization they disagreed with, and to use the power of the state – the power to compel – to attempt to destroy said organization.

That’s what the New York State Department of Financial Services tried to do to the NRA.  They got knocked back.  The NRA’s case against them will proceed, and I expect the NRA will win.

But that’s a story for another day.