Supreme Court limits government pressure campaigns in free speech ruling (for NRA).

The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in a First Amendment case, potentially limiting the ability of state regulators to exert pressure on advocacy groups. The decision comes as a result of the NRA’s lawsuit against former New York State Department of Financial Services Superintendent Maria Vullo, who reportedly urged banks and insurance companies to sever ties with the gun rights organization following the 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s opinion stated that government officials cannot selectively punish or suppress speech, either directly or through private intermediaries. The NRA had claimed that Vullo not only pressured insurance companies to disassociate from the gun lobby but also threatened enforcement actions against those that did not comply.

The crux of the dispute revolved around a meeting between Vullo and insurance market Lloyd’s of London in 2018. The NRA alleged that Vullo offered to not prosecute other violations if the company helped with the campaign against gun groups, a claim Vullo disputed.

Vullo argued that her enforcement targeted an insurance product that is illegal in New York: third-party policies sold through the NRA that cover personal injury and criminal defense costs following the use of a firearm. Critics referred to these policies as “murder insurance.”

The decision provides guidance for government regulators on the extent to which they can pressure private companies that do business with controversial advocacy groups. The ACLU, a group that typically disagrees with the NRA on gun issues, represented the NRA before the Supreme Court.

A US district court initially denied some of the NRA’s claims but allowed its First Amendment arguments to proceed against Vullo. However, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, concluding that Vullo’s actions were not coercive and that she was entitled to qualified immunity. The NRA primarily relied on a 1963 Supreme Court decision, Bantam Books v. Sullivan, which dealt with a Rhode Island commission that threatened to refer distributors to police for selling obscene books.

This story has been updated with additional details.