Supreme Court Unanimously Rules Against New York Official for Violating NRA’s First Amendment Rights


Since its ratification, the First Amendment has been unequivocal: Government officials cannot use their authority to punish or restrict political viewpoints.

That’s the essence of the “speech” component of the amendment.

Because some power-driven functionaries continually ignore this clear-cut rule, the Supreme Court occasionally intervenes to remind us. Such was the case on May 30 in National Rifle Association of America v. Vullo, where all nine justices ruled that Maria Vullo, former superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services, improperly pressured insurance companies and banks to deny the NRA access to their services.

The case’s complexity was minimal. Vullo identified a minor infraction in insurance that Lloyd’s of London and Chubb Limited had underwritten, allowing the NRA to offer its members insurance. Vullo then suggested to Lloyd’s officials that she would not penalize the company if it ceased underwriting all firearm-related policies and considerably reduced its business with the NRA.

Subsequently, in a guidance letter to all entities regulated by her department, Vullo explicitly discouraged them from doing business with the NRA, citing “reputational risks.” In a joint press release with then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Vullo went further, “urging all insurance companies and banks doing business in New York” to “discontinue their arrangement with the NRA.” Her department also entered consent decrees with Lloyd’s and Chubb, in which Chubb agreed not to provide insurance through the NRA, even if it was lawful otherwise.

Vullo made it clear to Lloyd’s that she aimed to cripple all gun groups, specifying (as stated in the case syllabus) that “she would ‘focus’ her enforcement actions ‘solely’ on the syndicates with ties to the NRA, and ‘ignore other syndicates writing similar policies.’”

Vullo’s actions were evidently coercive. If the facts presented in this case are verified when it returns to lower courts, then Vullo “used the power of her office to target gun promotion by going after the NRA’s business partners.”

All nine justices rightly judged this case not based on their personal views of the NRA but as an issue of First Amendment protection. The unanimous decision was penned by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, known for her gun control jurisprudence. The unanimity underscores the strength of the First Amendment case and the amendment’s significance.

As Sotomayor noted, Vullo in her personal capacity can freely use her First Amendment rights to oppose the NRA’s agenda. However, the Constitution mandates that Vullo “not wield her power” to “punish or suppress” the NRA’s First Amendment rights.

“At the heart of the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause,” Sotomayor wrote, “is the recognition that viewpoint discrimination is uniquely harmful to a free and democratic society.”

This principle should be upheld not just by direct government regulators and enforcement officials but also by entities like public schools and state colleges. A state college dean or professor, just like a state financial services regulator, must not use viewpoint discrimination to penalize speech (except illegal physical threats) or determine employment status. Particularly, it is patently unconstitutional to deny employment or promotion to an instructor who refuses to sign a “diversity, equity, and inclusion” statement of beliefs.

Our free and democratic society is invaluable. The high court is right to prevent officials from undermining it.

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