Supreme Court gives National Rifle Assn. a 1st Amendment win in suit against New York officials

The National Rifle Assn., best known for advocating for gun rights under the 2nd Amendment, won an unusual 1st Amendment free-speech decision from the Supreme Court on Thursday.

In a 9-0 decision, the justices agreed the NRA had a plausible free-speech claim that it had been targeted for harassment and threatened by state financial regulators in New York because of its advocacy for gun rights.

“Government officials cannot attempt to coerce private parties in order to punish or suppress views that the government disfavors,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor said for the court.

In the past, the court has said public officials have free speech rights to advocate for their policies and to encourage others to follow their guidance.

But in this case, the court said state officials can go too far and violate the 1st Amendment if they use their authority to threaten or punish organizations whose views they oppose.

The NRA said it sued then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Maria Vullo, his state superintendent for financial services, after they issued formal guidance letters urging every bank and insurance company to “sever their ties” with the gun rights group.

Cuomo tweeted: “We’re forcing the NRA into financial jeopardy. We won’t stop until we shut them down.”

The ACLU’s national legal director David Cole argued the case on behalf of the NRA. This “was a campaign by the state’s highest political officials to to use their power to coerce a boycott of a political advocacy organization because they disagreed with its advocacy,” he told the justices.

The Biden administration also backed the NRA’s free-speech claim, but it urged the justices to make clear that government officials cannot be sued simply for strongly arguing against the views of groups like the NRA.

The court did not rule that NRA will win its case, but it revived its free-speech lawsuit after it had been dismissed by the 2nd Circuit Court in New York.

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Kevin harson

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