The ACLU Joins Forces With…The NRA?
The ACLU Joins Forces With…The NRA?
The American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association agree about very little. They are often on opposite sides in major cases, and they certainly have starkly different views about gun rights.
But when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the N.R.A.’s free-speech challenge to what it said were a New York official’s efforts to blacklist it, one of its lawyers had a bold idea. Why not ask the A.C.L.U. to represent it before the justices?
“The N.R.A. might be thought of as the 800-pound gorilla on the Second Amendment,” said the lawyer, William A. Brewer III. “Clearly, the A.C.L.U. is the 800-pound gorilla on the First Amendment.”
And to the surprise of EVERYONE, the ACLU agreed and is now co-counsel for the NRA for the upcoming case before the United States Supreme Court. Remember, this is the same ACLU who gave Christine Blasey-Ford an award, has worked to erase children, and caved to hecklers regarding Charlottesville.
The case itself is interesting. The NRA and three insurance companies had settled a lawsuit after all four entities had promoted insurance that would essentially keep any individual free from penalties or lawsuits if that individual shot someone. Yes, that was an incredibly boneheaded move on the NRA’s part. Well, not long after the dust settled on all of that, the Parkland shooting happened. And the Department of Financial Services (DFS), led by Maria Vullo made their move.
After this shooting, DFS issued a “guidance,” signed by Vullo, which encouraged insurers to “continue evaluating and managing their risks, including reputational risks, that may arise from their dealings with the NRA or similar gun promotion organizations.”
To be clear, this guidance did not explicitly threaten to take any action against insurers who continued to do lawful business with the NRA. But that does not change the fact that DFS, an agency whose responsibilities include law enforcement, and that had recently brought a $13 million enforcement action against insurance companies that did illegal business with the NRA, was now suggesting that those same companies might face consequences if they did other, legal business with the NRA.
This guidance, and similar post-Parkland communications between DFS and the insurance industry, do potentially violate the First Amendment. While the Constitution permits a government official to ask any company to stop doing business with the NRA, it does not typically permit the government to coerce private businesses into halting lawful business with an advocacy group. And DFS’s guidance, which was issued so soon after DFS opened its Carry Guard investigation, looks suspiciously like coercion.
This is the case in which the ACLU has decided to join forces with the NRA.
We don’t support the NRA's mission or its viewpoints on gun rights, and we don’t agree with their goals, strategies, or tactics.— ACLU (@ACLU) December 9, 2023
But we both know that government officials can't punish organizations because they disapprove of their views. https://t.co/BPLhxFtH0P
That’s the crux of the matter. A government entity was using coercive tactics to stifle the free speech and the operations of a business entity they don’t like.
The questions at the core of this case are about the First Amendment and the principled defense of civil liberties for all, including those with whom we disagree on the Second Amendment.— ACLU (@ACLU) December 9, 2023
We won’t let the rights of organizations to engage in political advocacy be trampled.
Furthermore, the ACLU also warns that this could set a precedent of government agencies blacklisting or punishing organizations for holding view-points they don’t like.
Except we’ve already watched that happen since Covid showed up on our shores. Business, churches, and people were blacklisted, harassed, forcibly shut down, and banned from social media for going against the chosen lockdown and vaccinate everything that moves narrative. I have to wonder if that overreach is what has caused the ACLU to wake up and go back to their core mission of defending free speech with this case.
Of course, not everyone is thrilled with this. Shannon Watts of Moms Demand Action fame is definitely not pleased. Nor is the NY chapter of the ACLU.
The NYCLU strongly disagrees with the ACLU’s decision to directly represent and therefore provide direct support to the NRA.— NYCLU (@NYCLU) December 9, 2023
We will not be participating in this case even though it comes out of New York.https://t.co/oZBHRc5u1I pic.twitter.com/HJnzLpj5UW
There are a great many folks also pounding on the ACLU for their stance against the Second Amendment, while taking this case. And, I don’t disagree with that. The ACLU should, as we all should, defend the whole of our Constitutional Rights. ALL of them.
One has to keep in mind that the guidance the DFS and Maria Vullo issued was specifically sent to insurance companies and banks who were, at that time, conducting business with the NRA. Again, as is outlined in the lawsuit, the guidance was quite specific and overreaching.
“Vullo…warned regulated institutions that doing business…posed ‘reputational risk’ of concern to DFS; secretly offered leniency to insurers for unrelated infractions if they dropped the NRA; and extracted highly-publicized and over-reaching consent orders, and multi-million dollar penalties, from firms that formerly served the NRA,” the NRA’s petition for a writ of certiorari in the case reads.
I don’t know about you, but if I was a company operating out of New York and in business with a view-point organization, and received guidance like that, we’d feel we’d have no choice but to take our business elsewhere.
Eugene Volokh is correct. This case is about EVERYONE’S First Amendment rights. Government entities absolutely should not engage in discriminating against or urging businesses to engage in blacklisting tactics against organizations whose viewpoint is counter to their chosen narrative.
Feature Photo Credit: NRA headquarters signpost via Flickr, cropped and modified