The National Rifle Association (NRA) has found an unlikely ally in the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as the group pursues its First Amendment case before the Supreme Court.
“The NRA is proud to stand with the ACLU and others who recognize this important truth: regulatory authority cannot be used to silence political speech,” NRA President Charles Cotton said after adding the ACLU as co-counsel for the case.
“This case is important not only to the Association, but all who openly advocate for the causes and issues in which they believe,” Cotton continued.
The NRA filed its 2018 challenge following the revelation that former New York State Department of Financial Services Superintendent Maria T. Vullo, at the order of former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, allegedly blacklisted the NRA – effectively forcing banks and insurers to cut ties with the group.
The NRA fired back at this action by claiming it violated First Amendment rights to free speech. The lawsuit alleges that Vullo made “backroom threats” against regulated firms, accompanied by offers of leniency on unrelated infractions if regulated entities would agree to blacklist the NRA.
The lawsuit defeated multiple challenges and setbacks before the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. The NRA sees the ACLU’s support as a major confirmation of its arguments.
“The ACLU joining as counsel underscores the importance of this First Amendment case and the NRA’s position that government officials cannot use intimidation tactics to silence those with whom those officials disagree,” William A. Brewer III, partner at Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors and counsel for the NRA, said of the development.
“The ACLU is a leading voice on legal and constitutional issues and is a welcome addition to this advocacy,” Brewer added.
The ACLU’s national legal director David Cole acknowledged that the decision to assist the NRA will prove controversial within and beyond the group, but argued that while it’s “never easy to defend those with whom you disagree… the ACLU has long stood for the proposition that we may disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.”
“In this hyper-polarized environment, where few are willing to cross the aisle on anything, the fact that the A.C.L.U. is defending the N.R.A. here only underscores the importance of the free speech principle at stake,” Cole wrote in a statement to the New York Times.
The group made clear that it does not support the NRA or its mission, but that it also did not support public officials abusing their power to blacklist an organization “just because they oppose an organization’s political views.”
A Second Circuit court struck down the effort in 2022, arguing that New York’s financial regulators had a reasonable duty to warn banks and businesses about “social backlash” for associating with the NRA, calling it part of the “enhanced corporate social responsibility.”
The Supreme Court agreed to review the decision and review on the question of “Does the First Amendment allow a government regulator to threaten regulated entities with adverse regulatory actions if they do business with a controversial speaker, as a consequence of (a) the government’s own hostility to the speaker’s viewpoint or (b) a perceived “general backlash” against the speaker’s advocacy?”
The answer will impact the relationship between state regulators and private entities, which the NRA argues currently “gives state officials free rein to financially blacklist their political opponents.”
Fox News Digital’s Brianna Herlihy contributed to this report.