The Washington Times

Dozens of GOP lawmakers back NRA in free speech challenge at Supreme Court

By Alex Swoyer

Dozens of congressional Republicans are supporting the National Rifle Association’s federal lawsuit against a New York state regulator who pushed finance firms to deny services to the gun rights advocacy group, telling the Supreme Court that free speech and Second Amendment rights are at stake.

Eighteen Republican senators and more than 60 GOP House members this week sent to the high court an amicus brief in support of the NRA’s case against Maria Vullo, the former superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services. The court is expected to hear the case in March or April.

“This campaign singled out the NRA’s financial relationships on account of the organization’s First Amendment-protected advocacy for gun rights, speech Vullo maligned as ‘promot[ing] guns that lead to senseless violence,’” the brief reads.

The case has created strange political bedfellows, as the American Civil Liberties Union has come forward to represent the NRA in its First Amendment lawsuit against New York financial regulators.

Sen. Ted Budd and Rep. Richard Hudson, both North Carolina Republicans, led the effort to send the amicus brief to the high court’s justices.

“Left-wing New York state officials have attempted to weaponize the state government to punish a political group purely because they believe in Second Amendment rights. This blatantly unconstitutional action fundamentally undermines the right of free speech and equal justice under law. Other states and jurisdictions are no doubt watching,” Mr. Budd told The Washington Times.

“If New York state can financially blacklist a large organization like the NRA, what’s to stop a smaller group in another state from facing the same threat and not having the ability to defend itself? The Constitution’s basic tenets are at stake in this case, and I’m proud to team up with my friend Rep. Hudson to defend the First Amendment right of freedom of expression,” the senator said.

Other Republican senators who signed the brief: Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven of North Dakota, Steve Daines of Montana, Rick Scott of Florida, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Mike Braun of Indiana, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, Mike Crapo and James E. Risch of Idaho, Mike Rounds and John Thune of South Dakota, John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Ted Cruz of Texas, James Lankford of Oklahoma and Roger Marshall of Kansas.

“Using intimidation tactics to pressure financial institutions into severing ties with the NRA is a deliberate attempt to silence and suppress free speech,” Mr. Hudson said. “I’m proud to lead this amicus brief in defense of the NRA and its First Amendment rights, and I won’t stop fighting to stop government agencies from abusing their power to target our constitutionally protected freedoms.”

Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, is one of the more than five dozen House members who have signed onto the amicus brief.

“This blatant attempt by Left-wing officials in New York to harass advocacy groups and suppress free speech should concern every American,” Mr. Jordan said in a statement. “We must stop government agencies from weaponizing their power to undermine our constitutionally protected freedoms.”

Ms. Vullo‘s lawyer, Neal Katyal of the Hogan Lovells law firm provided a statement: “This case carries significant implications for the future of American regulatory law. At its core, this case asks a simple question: ‘Should the government be allowed to govern?’ Incredibly, the NRA asks the Court to empower virtually limitless claims against any government official based on an extreme and unworkable interpretation of the First Amendment. Their position runs counter to a unanimous panel of the Second Circuit and decades of well-established Supreme Court precedent.”

In the wake of the 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, Ms. Vullo said that financial services companies should consider whether they should serve pro-gun organizations like the National Rifle Association. The state opened investigations into certain insurance companies that were in business with NRA members, according to the gun advocacy group’s filing.

The NRA sued, saying Ms. Vullo was exercising government authority against its free speech rights.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Ms. Vullo, citing qualified immunity, and the NRA took the case to the Supreme Court.

It took at least four justices to vote in favor of reviewing the lower court’s decision.

The case is National Rifle Association v. Maria Vullo. A decision is expected by the end of June.