Friday March 1st, 2024 8:45AM

The NRA has a surprising defender in its free speech case before the Supreme Court: the ACLU

By The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — In a case of politics making strange bedfellows, the National Rifle Association will be represented by frequent nemesis the American Civil Liberties Union in an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The New York-based civil liberties group confirmed Saturday that it would provide legal representation for the gun-rights group in its First Amendment case against New York’s Department of Financial Services even as it “vigorously” opposes nearly everything it stands for.

“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,” the ACLU in a statement posted on X, formerly Twitter. “But we both know that government officials can’t punish organizations because they disapprove of their views.”

The NRA, which reshared the ACLU's statement on its social media account, wrote in a follow-up post that it was “proud” to stand with the ACLU and others who recognize that “regulatory authority cannot be used to silence political speech."

The nation's highest court is set to hear arguments early next year in a case centered on comments former New York State Department of Financial Services superintendent Maria Vullo made in the wake of the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

After 17 people were killed at the Parkland, Florida, school, Vullo called on banks and insurance companies operating in New York to discontinue their association with gun-promoting groups.

In letters to companies and news releases, she urged operators to consider “reputational risks” from doing business with the NRA and other gun groups.

The NRA sued Vullo after multiple entities cut ties or decided not to do business with the Fairfax, Virginia-based organization. The federal appeals court in New York rejected the NRA’s claims, saying Vullo acted in good faith and within the bounds of her job.

Spokespersons for New York's financial services department didn't respond to an email seeking comment Saturday.

But the ACLU, in additional comments posted on X, argued that if the Supreme Court doesn’t intervene, it could create a “dangerous playbook” for regulatory agencies across the country to blacklist or punish “viewpoint-based organizations" including abortion rights groups, environmental groups and even the ACLU itself.

“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,” the ACLU wrote. “We won’t let the rights of organizations to engage in political advocacy be trampled.”

The announcement, which comes as the NRA and the gun-rights movement broadly has proven resilient amid the nation’s ceaseless mass shootings and gun violence, was criticized by at least one prominent ACLU affiliate.

The New York Civil Liberties Union, in a statement, said it “strongly disagrees” with the decision and would not participate in the case, even though it originated in New York.

“The important First Amendment issue in the case is well-established, the NRA is one of the most powerful organizations in the country and has sophisticated counsel, and representing the NRA directly risks enormous harm to the clients and communities the ACLU and NYCLU work with and serve,” Executive Director Donna Lieberman said in an emailed statement.

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