May 30, 2024

Supreme Court Decides NRA v. Vullo

On May 30, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court decided NRA v. Vullo, No. 22-842, holding that the National Rifle Association (NRA) stated a claim that Maria Vullo, while acting as the superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS), violated the First Amendment by coercing entities she regulated to cut ties with the NRA, in order to suppress the NRA’s gun-promotion advocacy.

The NRA contracted with various insurance companies to provide affinity insurance programs. Some of those companies were regulated by DFS. The NRA alleged that, in 2017, Vullo began investigating those companies’ relationships with the NRA. On several occasions, Vullo allegedly expressed her views on gun control, encouraged the companies to reevaluate their relationships with the NRA, and indicated that DFS would be less interested in pursuing any regulatory infractions if they were unrelated to the NRA’s business. Several companies subsequently entered into consent decrees with DFS and terminated their relationships with the NRA.

The NRA filed suit, claiming Vullo violated the First Amendment. The district court held that the NRA had stated a claim at the pleadings stage, but the Second Circuit reversed, holding that Vullo’s actions constituted permissible government speech.

The Supreme Court reversed the Second Circuit. It held that, while Vullo was “free to criticize the NRA,” she could not “wield her power, however, to threaten enforcement actions against DFS-regulated entities in order to punish or suppress the NRA’s gun-promotion advocacy.” Under the First Amendment, just as a government official cannot suppress disfavored speech directly, an official also cannot do so indirectly: “A government official cannot coerce a private party to punish or suppress disfavored speech on her behalf.” Because the NRA alleged that “Vullo made a not-so-subtle, sanctions-backed threat to Lloyd’s to cut all business ties with the NRA and other gun-promotion groups,” it stated a claim under the First Amendment.

Justice Sotomayor delivered the unanimous opinion of the Court. Justices Gorsuch and Jackson each filed a concurring opinion.

Download Opinion of the Court

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