NRA 1, Liberal Tears 0: Supreme Court Backs Free Speech in Unanimous Decision

Keith Homan /
Keith Homan /

The Supreme Court has delivered a significant win for the National Rifle Association (NRA), affirming that a New York official overstepped by pressuring insurance companies to cut ties with the gun rights group. In a unanimous decision, the Court agreed that the NRA’s First Amendment rights were potentially violated.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the majority on May 30, emphasized that while a government official can express opinions and critique beliefs, they cannot use state power to punish or suppress disfavored expression. She made it clear: opinions are free, but coercion by the state is not.

The case, NRA v. Vullo, stems from the fallout of the tragic Parkland, Florida, shooting on February 14, 2018. The NRA alleged that Maria Vullo, the then-Superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS), used her position to pressure insurance companies to boycott the NRA.

Let’s not mince words here: the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit initially dismissed the NRA’s claims, granting Vullo qualified immunity. However, the Supreme Court saw things differently, allowing the NRA to pursue its First Amendment claims in a lower court.

David Cole, arguing for the NRA, didn’t hold back. He asserted that this wasn’t about enforcing insurance laws but rather a blatant campaign by New York’s top political figures to coerce a boycott against the NRA simply because they disagreed with its stance on gun rights. And he’s right, folks. This is government overreach at its finest.

Neal Katyal, representing Vullo, tried to justify the state’s actions by pointing to illegal insurance products the NRA was endorsing. But the Supreme Court wasn’t buying it. They ruled that the alleged illegality of these programs didn’t shield Vullo from First Amendment scrutiny. Justice Sotomayor referenced the 1963 Bantam Books v. Sullivan case, highlighting that the government cannot indirectly suppress speech through coercion.

The Supreme Court’s message was clear: Vullo’s communications with insurance companies, mainly Lloyd’s, could be seen as threats or inducements—both coercive tactics. Sotomayor pointed out that this kind of state interference is a direct affront to free speech.

This decision coincides with another crucial case, Murthy v. Missouri, where the Biden administration defended its coercive communications with social media giants regarding content moderation. Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, in her concurrence, stressed the need to differentiate between government coercion and outright First Amendment violations. She warned against broadly applying the Bantam Books ruling to every case, which is a fair point, but we cannot ignore the blatant coercion at play here.

Justice Jackson’s cautious approach also highlighted the complexities of these cases. She noted that Vullo’s alleged coercion didn’t create a direct administrative restraint on the NRA’s speech but rather a more indirect suppression. This nuanced take should be focused on the core issue: government overreach.

Her comments during oral arguments in Murthy v. Missouri raised eyebrows when she suggested the First Amendment might hamper the federal government. Critics quickly jumped on this, arguing that she misunderstood the First Amendment’s purpose. She voiced concern about the government’s ability to protect citizens, especially children, from harmful online content.

So here we are. The Supreme Court’s ruling is a stark reminder that while the government can and should protect its citizens, it cannot trample on constitutional rights to do so. The NRA’s fight isn’t just about gun rights—it’s about safeguarding our fundamental freedoms from government overreach.

This decision is a victory not just for the NRA but for all of us who value our First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court has set a precedent that state officials cannot use their power to bully organizations they disagree with. It’s a win for free speech, the Constitution, and every American who believes in the power of our rights to stand against government coercion.