In a unanimous ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court held in NRA v. Vullo that the National Rifle Association (NRA) has a valid First Amendment case against a New York official who coerced entities she regulated to terminate their business relationships with the NRA.

The case arose when, in 2017, the New York State Department of Financial Services (then led by named respondent Maria T. Vullo) began investigating NRA-endorsed insurance programs offered to its members. The Department oversees insurance companies and financial services institutions doing business in New York. It can initiate investigations and civil enforcement actions against regulated entities and refer potential criminal violations to the State’s attorney general for prosecution. In 2018, Vullo issued guidance and statements encouraging banks and insurers to examine and potentially end their affiliations with organizations that supported guns and entered into consent decrees with three insurers in which they agreed not to provide any insurance programs for the NRA to offer as a benefit to its members, among other terms. A number of firms ended their relationships with the NRA.

The NRA filed suit against Vullo and other state officials, arguing that their actions violated its free speech and equal protection rights. The Supreme Court granted certiorari only on the question of whether the NRA’s complaint states a First Amendment claim against Vullo.

In an opinion by Justice Sotomayor, the Supreme Court reaffirmed its decades-old holding that government officials cannot attempt to coerce private parties in order to punish or suppress views that the government disfavors. It held that the NRA had plausibly alleged that Vullo had done just that by pressuring regulated entities to help her stifle the NRA’s pro-gun advocacy by threatening enforcement actions against those entities that refused to disassociate from the NRA and other gun-promotion advocacy groups. If true, those allegations state a First Amendment claim. The Court emphasized that at the heart of the First Amendment’s Free Speech Clause is the recognition that viewpoint discrimination, such as that alleged in the case, is uniquely harmful to a free and democratic society.