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Unanimous Supreme Court Calls Foul on Government Efforts to Blacklist & Informally Censor Disfavored Political Groups Such as the NRA

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a unanimous ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a warning to government officials that the First Amendment prohibits them from “wielding their power selectively to punish or suppress speech,” whether directly or indirectly by “coerc[ing] a private party to punish or suppress disfavored speech on [the government’s] behalf.”

Warning against a growing cancel culture mindset within government agencies across the political spectrum which seeks to censor, ostracize, and shun those with opposing, disfavored, or politically unpopular viewpoints, a legal coalition made up of The Rutherford Institute, FIRE, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the First Amendment Lawyers Association had filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in NRA v. Vullo challenging government efforts to indirectly censor the National Rifle Association by pressuring regulated insurance companies to disassociate from and stop offering certain services to the pro-gun advocacy group.

“Whatever government-driven censorship we tolerate now is destined to serve as a building block for greater acts of tyranny,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Given the government’s tendency to attach its own labels to behavior and speech that challenges its authority, these efforts to ostracize those with politically unpopular viewpoints should be cause for alarm across the entire political spectrum.”

In October 2017, the New York State Department of Financial Services (DFS) opened an investigation into an NRA-endorsed insurance program called “Carry Guard,” which provided coverage for losses caused by licensed firearm use, including criminal defense costs resulting from the intentional use of a firearm in wrongdoing, which was a violation of New York law. DFS Superintendent Maria Vullo met with one of the insurance companies under investigation, which was facing millions in fines, and explained how the company could come into compliance, including by no longer providing insurance to gun groups like the NRA. Vullo also sought the company’s aid in DFS’s campaign against gun groups following the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Later, Vullo called upon banks and insurance companies doing business in New York to consider the risks, including reputational risks, which might arise from doing business with the NRA, urging them to join others that had discontinued their associations with the NRA. Multiple entities publicly severed their ties or determined not to do business with the NRA.

In response, the NRA filed a First Amendment lawsuit against Vullo. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the case to be dismissed, concluding that Vullo engaged in permissible government speech. But The Rutherford Institute and other amici on the brief pointed to Vullo’s words, the perception of a threat for companies continuing to do business with the NRA, and the power of DFS’ regulatory authority as factors showing improper coercion to indirectly censor the NRA, and urged the Supreme Court to make clear that government officials cannot sidestep the First Amendment. The Supreme Court’s opinion did that, and the NRA’s lawsuit against Vullo can now proceed.

The Supreme Court opinion and the coalition’s amicus brief in NRA v. Vullo are available at www.rutherford.org. Robert Corn-Revere, Ronald G. London, Will Creeley, and Joshua A. House with FIRE advanced the arguments in the brief.

Case History

January 19, 2024 • Rutherford Institute Denounces Rise in Government’s Cancel Culture Efforts to Censor, Ostracize & Shun Politically Unpopular Viewpoints

NRA v. Vullo

Article posted with permission from John Whitehead


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