Supreme Court Supports the NRA in First Amendment Ruling

Maria Vullo, then superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS), attempted to exert pressure on businesses associated with the NRA. However, the Supreme Court, in a unanimous decision on May 30th, ruled that her actions were a clear violation of the First Amendment.

During her tenure as director of the DFS (2016–2019), Vullo oversaw the state’s insurance and banking industries, launching investigations and imposing civil penalties that may have a devastating effect on corporations. As a gun control extremist, Vullo sought to use her position to force insurance companies that had cooperated with the NRA to stop selling policies to NRA members.

The Supreme Court decision details a meeting that took place in February 2018 between her and insurer Lloyd’s of London. During the meeting, Vullo expressed her support for gun control and informed the company’s executives that DFS would refrain from pursuing unrelated infractions as long as Lloyd’s stopped insuring gun groups, particularly the NRA. She and then-governor Andrew Cuomo also issued the same public counsel to other entities.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor authored the opinion of the unanimous 9-0 decision that declared this effort to censor expression to be unlawful.

While pursuing the admitted breaches of New York insurance law, Vullo was free to attack the NRA. But she couldn’t use her authority to penalize or censor the NRA for its gun-promotion lobbying by threatening enforcement actions against organizations regulated by DFS.

Bantam Books, Inc. v. Sullivan, decided in 1963, included Rhode Island’s attempt to shield minors from what the state considered to be sexually explicit material. This judgment was the basis for the current rule. In the end, Thursday’s decision states that Bantam Books upholds the idea that an official of the government cannot use any kind of indirect or direct coercion to penalize or restrict unsolicited expression.

After hearing three cases this term involving attempts by the government to exert pressure on corporations via regulation in order to regulate speech indirectly, the Supreme Court made its first conclusion in the NRA ruling.