U.S. Supreme Court

ACLU represents NRA in this Supreme Court case

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Man in silhouette with the constitution and NRA symbols on screen

The National Rifle Association, whose CEO, Wayne LaPierre, appears here onstage during the 2023 National Rifle Association annual convention, is being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union in a free speech case accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo by Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

Updated: The American Civil Liberties Union doesn’t support the National Rifle Association or its mission. But the ACLU is representing the gun-rights group as co-counsel in a free speech case before the U.S. Supreme Court, the New York Times reports.

David Cole, the national legal director of the ACLU, will argue the case before the justices. At issue in National Rifle Association v. Vullo is whether a New York official violated the First Amendment by pressuring banks and insurers to cut ties with the NRA.

Maria R. Vullo, then the superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services, had said banks and insurers should consider the “reputational risks” of working with the NRA after a shooter killed 17 people in February 2018 at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

The ACLU agreed to act as co-counsel “because public officials shouldn’t be allowed to abuse the powers of the office to blacklist an organization just because they oppose an organization’s political views,” the group said in a statement to the New York Times.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at New York had ruled for Vullo, holding that public officials have “a right—indeed, a duty—to address issues of public concern.”

While public officials can’t coerce entities to refrain from protected speech, documents by Vullo “employed words intended to persuade rather than intimidate,” the appeals court said.

Cole told the New York Times that important principles are at stake.

“If Maria Vullo can do this to the NRA, then why couldn’t a regulator in Texas do it to an immigrants’ rights group or a regulator in Arkansas do it to Planned Parenthood?” he asked.

Cole added that federal officials could also abuse their power under the 2nd Circuit’s ruling.

“Donald Trump has made no bones about his desire to retaliate against his opponents,” Cole told the New York Times. A decision for Vullo “would be a playbook for him to do exactly that” if he wins the presidency again in 2024.

Co-counsel in the case are Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors and Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment scholar and a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law.

The Brewer law firm gave this statement to the ABA Journal: “We look forward to collaborating with the ACLU, Eugene Volokh and others on this advocacy team. These lawyers and dozens of amici speak to the importance of the NRA’s case and send a powerful message to New York state regulators: The NRA will always defend its right to free speech.”

Updated Dec. 11 at 7:02 p.m. to correct a Getty Images photo caption that misidentified Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the National Rifle Association. Updated Dec. 12 at 8:03 a.m. to add the statement from Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors.

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