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Supreme Court Unanimously Sides With NRA In First Amendment Case Against New York Official

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The Supreme Court unanimously held Thursday that the National Rifle Association (NRA) “plausibly alleged” that a New York official violated its First Amendment rights, finding that government officials cannot “use the power of the State to punish or suppress disfavored expression.”

The justices allowed the NRA to pursue its First Amendment claim against former superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services (DFS) Maria Vullo, vacating a lower court ruling that found the NRA failed to show Vullo “crossed the line between attempts to convince and attempts to coerce.” They held that the gun rights group has a plausible case that Vullo “violated the First Amendment by coercing regulated entities to terminate their business relationships with the NRA in order to punish or suppress gun-promotion advocacy.”

“Six decades ago, this Court held that a government entity’s ‘threat of invoking legal sanctions and other means of coercion’ against a third party ‘to achieve the suppression’ of disfavored speech violates the First Amendment,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote for the court. “Today, the Court reaffirms what it said then: Government officials cannot attempt to coerce private parties in order to punish or suppress views that the government disfavors. ”

The NRA sued in 2018, alleging Vullo’s actions to pressure banks and insurance companies not to do business with their organization violated the First Amendment.

“A government official can share her views freely and criticize particular beliefs, and she can do so forcefully in the hopes of persuading others to follow her lead,” Sotomayor wrote. “In doing so, she can rely on the merits and force of her ideas, the strength of her convictions, and her ability to inspire others. What she cannot do, however, is use the power of the State to punish or suppress disfavored expression.”

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