ACLU Defends NRA’s First Amendment Rights, Urges Supreme Court to Protect All Advocacy Groups’ Free Speech Rights

The ACLU argued that any government attempt to blacklist an advocacy group and deny it financial services because of its viewpoint violates the First Amendment.

March 18, 2024 4:03 pm

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today argued before the Supreme Court in National Rifle Association v. Vullo that a New York State regulator’s attempt to use her authority to coerce third parties to deny the NRA access to financial services violates the First Amendment.

The ACLU argued that Maria Vullo, a former New York state regulator, threatened to use her regulatory power over banks and insurance companies to coerce them into denying basic financial services to the NRA and, in Vullo’s own words, “other gun promotion” groups. After issuing these threats, several insurance companies and banks refused to work with the NRA out of fear of reprisals from New York regulators.

“New York State’s attempt to abuse its regulatory power to coerce banks and insurance companies to blacklist the NRA because of its advocacy violates the First Amendment, just as punishing the group directly for its ‘gun promotion’ views would,” said ACLU Legal Director David Cole, who argued the case for the NRA. “If New York can do this to the NRA, Texas or Florida could use the same tactics against groups advocating immigrants’ rights, the right to abortion, or other vital civil liberties.”

The ACLU disagrees sharply with the NRA on many issues, yet we represented the group in this case because of the First Amendment principles at stake. This case sets an important precedent for the free speech rights of all advocacy organizations. While government officials are free to speak their mind, the First Amendment bars them from abusing their authority to pressure others to penalize speech based on its viewpoint. There can be no doubt that Vullo’s actions sought to punish the NRA because she disagreed with its protected speech. Should the state prevail against the NRA, government officials will have unfettered power to regulate any organization until it can no longer pursue its mission.

The ACLU urged the Supreme Court to apply the precedent it set in 1963 in Bantam Books v. Sullivan, which established that informal, indirect efforts to suppress or penalize speech by threatening private intermediaries violates the First Amendment just as much as direct censorship. By upholding the protections created in Bantam Books more than 60 years ago, the Supreme Court will safeguard all advocacy groups from government overreach.

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