Dozens of congressional Republicans have thrown their support behind the National Rifle Association in a lawsuit against a New York state regulator who allegedly tried to blacklist the group and deny it financial services because of its viewpoint on guns.
Eighteen Republican senators and more than a dozen GOP House lawmakers sent the U.S. Supreme Court an amicus brief in support of the gun rights groups, claiming the First and Second amendments are at stake.
The NRA is suing Maria Vullo, a former superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services. Vullo urged banks and insurance companies to distance themselves from the NRA following the 2018 deadly school shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Following the February shooting, in which 17 people were killed, Vullo sent “guidance letters” to businesses and issued a press statement calling on banks and insurance companies in New York to consider their “reputational risks” when doing business with gun groups, including the NRA.
“This campaign singled out the NRA’s financial relationships on account of the organization’s First Amendment-protected advocacy for gun rights, speech Vullo maligned as ‘promot[ing] guns that lead to senseless violence,'” the brief from the lawmakers said.
The NRA filed a lawsuit against Vullo and former New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo after multiple businesses and entities either cut ties or scaled back their business with the NRA. A federal appeals court in New York rejected the NRA’s claims and ruled Vullo acted in good faith and within the legal lines of her job. However, by the end of 2018, three insurance providers had entered into consent decrees with the state of New York, agreeing that some NRA-endorsed insurance programs they offered violated New York insurance laws and ended up paying $13 million in fines.
The NRA appealed the ruling and petitioned the Supreme Court to review the case, arguing the lower court’s ruling could have sweeping consequences.
“The Second Circuit’s opinion … gives state officials free rein to financially blacklist their political opponents – from gun-rights groups to abortion-rights groups to environmental groups and beyond,” the petition said.
Lawyers for Vullo wrote that “the ability to opine on important questions of public policy is vital to the work of many government officials,” adding that Vullo “did not violate the First Amendment by expressing her views regarding a national tragedy and encouraging regulated entities to consider their relationships with gun-promotion organizations.”
Sen. Ted Budd and Rep. Richard Hudson, both North Carolina Republicans, led the lawmakers’ amicus brief to the Supreme Court.
“Left-wing New York state officials have attempted to weaponize the state government to punish a political group purely because they believe in Second Amendment rights,” Budd told the Washington Times. “This blatantly unconstitutional action fundamentally undermines the right of free speech and equal justice under law. Other states and jurisdictions are no doubt watching.”
He added that if “New York state can financially blacklist a large organization like the NRA, what’s to stop a smaller group in another state from facing the same threat and not having the ability to defend itself? The Constitution’s basic tenets are at stake in this case, and I’m proud to team up with my friend Rep. Hudson to defend the First Amendment right of freedom of expression.”
Last month, the American Civil Liberties Union agreed to represent the NRA. The ACLU and the NRA have traditionally fallen on opposite sides of most of its major cases. However, the civil liberties group clarified in a statement that the organization “does not support the NRA or its mission.”
“We signed on as co-counsel because public officials shouldn’t be allowed to abuse the powers of the office to blacklist an organization just because they oppose an organization’s political views,” the ACLU said.
The outcome of the case will shape how much power government officials can wield in ways that might undermine the work of advocacy groups like the NRA.
The high court is expected to take up the case in March or April.