SCOTUS Hears Arguments in NRA Free-Speech Lawsuit

Group is suing former NY state official who allegedly tried to have it blacklisted
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 18, 2024 6:45 PM CDT
SCOTUS Hears Arguments in NRA Free-Speech Lawsuit
The Supreme Court is expected to hand down a decision by late June.   (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

Supreme Court justices appeared receptive Monday to National Rifle Association claims that a former New York state official violated its free-speech rights by pressuring banks and insurance companies to blacklist the group after the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The NRA is suing former New York State Department of Financial Services superintendent Maria Vullo, who the group says used her regulatory power to economically punish the group for its gun-rights stance in violation of the First Amendment, the AP reports. The Biden administration has backed some of the NRA's claims and encouraged the high court to reverse a lower court decision to toss out the suit.

The NRA is being represented by a group often on the other end of the political spectrum: the American Civil Liberties Union. "This is a First Amendment case. All they need to do is to show that the desire to suppress speech was a motivating factor," said Justice Samuel Alito. Other justices in the court's majority conservative wing also appeared receptive to the NRA's suit. Vullo, for her part, said she rightly investigated NRA-endorsed insurance policies sometimes referred to as "murder insurance," her attorney Neal Katyal said. She did speak out about the risks of doing business with gun groups but didn't exert any improper pressure on companies, he said.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson questioned whether lawsuits like the NRA's could hobble regulators when interest groups are involved: "How do we avoid a world in which advocacy organizations are exempt from regulation?" The NRA says Vullo leveraged a state investigation into the legality of NRA-endorsed insurance products to pressure insurance companies, saying she would go easier on them if they cut ties with the NRA. She also sent guidance letters to banks and insurance companies warning about the "reputational risks" of working with the NRA. Vullo says the letters were evenhanded and sent at a time when companies all over the country decided on their own to distance themselves from the NRA after the 2018 school shooting in Parkland. A decision is expected by late June.

(More US Supreme Court stories.)

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