May 30, 2024 – Today, in a unanimous decision written by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the US Supreme Court revived the NRA’s lawsuit against the former superintendent of New York’s Department of Financial Services, Maria Vullo. In that case, the NRA alleged that she violated the NRA’s First Amendment rights by coercing insurance companies to terminate their business relationships with the NRA in an effort to punish or suppress the NRA’s firearm-promotion advocacy. This decision could be a significant deterrent to other government officials who try to curtail gun rights through financial and other regulatory pressure on the private sector.

The underlying case involves Vullo’s 2017-18 investigation of the NRA’s “Carry Guard” insurance program, which covered losses associated with the use of personal firearms, including criminal defense costs. The NRA alleged that Vullo brought a variety of alleged insurance law violations to insurance company executives’ attention during a private meeting in February 2018. The violations included technical infractions that allegedly plagued the affinity insurance market in New York and that were unrelated to any NRA business. Vullo allegedly said she would be “less interested in pursuing the[se] infractions…so long as [the insurance company] ceased providing insurance to gun groups, especially the NRA.” The Supreme Court found that Vullo therefore wanted the insurance company to disassociate from all gun groups, and used her official position to pressure it into compliance with her and her administration’s anti-gun viewpoint. 

The justices all agreed that Vullo’s alleged “blacklisting” of the NRA, if proven, would violate the group’s free speech rights. “The complaint, assessed as a whole, plausibly alleges that Vullo threatened to wield her power against those refusing to aid her campaign to punish the NRA’s gun-promotion advocacy,” Justice Sotomayor wrote for the court. “While a government official can share her views freely and criticize particular beliefs in the hopes of persuading others, she may not use the power of her office to punish or suppress disfavored expression.” This decision overrules the lower appellate court’s opinion that the NRA failed to plausibly allege that Vullo crossed the line into coercion. 

Justice Sotomayor wrote that further proceedings may show the NRA’s claims of coercion are false or certain actions should be viewed differently because of newly disclosed evidence, but at this early stage in the case, the courts must assume that the factual allegations raised by the NRA’s complaint are true. The case has been remanded to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for further proceedings, consistent with the Supreme Court’s opinion. 

Renzulli Law Firm will continue to monitor NRA v. Vullo. If you have any questions concerning this lawsuit or other firearm related litigation around the country, please contact John F. Renzulli or Christopher Renzulli.