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Court dismisses​ NRA free speech lawsuit

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Last week, a federal appeals court ordered the dismissal of a National Rifle Association (NRA) lawsuit accusing a New York regulator of violating the NRA’s First Amendment rights by pressuring banks and insurers to stop doing business with the gun-rights group, reports Reuters.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said the NRA failed to prove that Maria Vullo, the former superintendent of New York's Department of Financial Services (DFS), "crossed the line between attempts to convince and attempts to coerce."

Following the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Vullo called for banks and insurers to consider the "reputational risks" of doing business with gun-rights groups. Vullo later fined multiple insurance businesses over $13 million for selling NRA-endorsed products that New York considered illegal, according to Reuters. The insurers dropped the NRA-backed products.

Vullo issued a press release, urging “all insurance companies and banks doing business in New York to join the companies that have already discontinued their arrangements with the NRA, and to take prompt actions to manage these risks and promote public health and safety,” court documents state.

The NRA then sued Vullo, the DFS, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, saying the state's actions would deprive the NRA of basic financial services and its ability to advocate for its mission.

A lower court judge dismissed all of the NRA’s claims, except for two free speech claims against Vullo. However, in the latest ruling, the appeals court stated that all claims should be dismissed.

“[E]ven assuming the NRA sufficiently pleaded that Vullo engaged in unconstitutionally threatening or coercive conduct, we conclude that Vullo is nonetheless entitled to qualified immunity because the law was not clearly established and any First Amendment violation would not have been apparent to a reasonable official at the time,” the court concluded. “The Complaint’s factual allegations show that, far from acting irresponsibly, Vullo was doing her job in good faith…Accordingly, even assuming the NRA plausibly alleged a First Amendment violation, Vullo would be protected by qualified immunity in any event,” the court’s opinion stated.

It is possible that the NRA could appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

“The Second Circuit’s decision regarding the NRA’s claims against Ms. Vullo misstates the facts, and offends the First Amendment,” said the NRA’s lawyer, William A. Brewer. He said the NRA is “exploring its options,” including certiorari to the Supreme Court.

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