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New York State Went After the NRA—Supreme Court Should Act

January 11, 2024

In 2018, then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his bureaucratic cronies threatened to investigate and punish companies that do business with the National Rifle Association (NRA), the nation’s oldest and largest gun rights group. It’s just one instance in a disturbing pattern of government officials weaponizing their power to silence viewpoints they don’t like—so the Goldwater Institute filed a brief this week urging the U.S. Supreme Court to protect the NRA’s First Amendment freedoms.

More than five years ago, New York state officials—including Cuomo and the state’s then-chief financial regulator, Maria Vullo—waged an intimidation campaign against insurance companies that work with the NRA. Their message was simple, and all too clear: cut all ties to the NRA…or else. The NRA filed suit in federal court—after all, the government is supposed to protect our fundamental rights, including the right to speak freely and advocate for political ideas without fear of retaliation.

The trial court ruled in the NRA’s favor, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed, concluding that Vullo could not be held liable because she did not explicitly threaten to punish the NRA’s business partners; she merely pressured the businesses, via thinly veiled insinuations and threats, to cut ties with the NRA.

Now, Goldwater is urging the Supreme Court to reverse the Second Circuit’s ruling. In its brief, Goldwater describes how millions of Americans are subject to the same kind of “informal censorship” that happened here. That’s because they, like the NRA’s former business partners, live and work under complex regulatory regimes—an Administrative State where bureaucrats can easily use investigations, licensing decisions, and other forms of red tape as weapons against those whose beliefs and ideologies they disapprove of.

Goldwater described to the Supreme Court just how many different fronts this battle is being fought on: “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) initiatives and “environmental, social and governance” (ESG) regulations, for instance, often serve as pretexts for bureaucrats to punish disfavored political beliefs. Vague terms like “misinformation” give bureaucrats the power to censor speech they disagree with. Convoluted, intrusive donor disclosure laws let the government intimidate those who support advocacy on issues of public importance. Cities even use complex zoning regulations and sign code provisions to silence advertising by local businesses during mega-events like the Super Bowl.

Throughout the country, bureaucrats at all levels of government are increasingly leveraging the power of the Administrative State to silence speech. But Goldwater is fighting back on all fronts, standing up for Americans’ rights to speak freely without fear of government retaliation.

Constitutional rights are constitutional rights—no matter what Cuomo, Vullo, or anyone else says.

You can read our brief here.

John Thorpe is a Staff Attorney at the Goldwater Institute.



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