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A federal appeals panel on Thursday dismissed the National Rifle Association’s First Amendment claims against a former New York state official who urged banks and insurance companies to end their association with groups promotion after the deadly shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida.
The 2nd United States Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled that Maria T. Vullo was within her rights as superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services when she spoke after the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people.
The NRA claimed it violated its free speech rights when it spoke out against gun violence, issuing “guidance letters” to businesses and a press release calling on banks and insurance companies operating in New York to consider “reputational risks” arising from doing business with the NRA or other arms groups.
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William A. Brewer III, an attorney for the NRA, said the 2nd Circuit ruling “misrepresents the facts and violates the First Amendment.” He said the NRA was exploring its options, including an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Brewer said in a statement that the ruling “endorses a radical idea: that financial regulators can selectively punish companies to advance ‘public policy’, including ‘social issues’ such as gun control. . This is a First Amendment waiver that should not prevail.”
The NRA sued Vullo after several entities severed ties or decided not to do business with the organization.
By late 2018, three insurers, including Lloyd’s of London, had entered into consent decrees with the state, agreeing that certain NRA-approved insurance programs they offered violated New York insurance law. They agreed to pay a total of over $13 million in fines.
The consent decrees were entered into following a state investigation into the legality of certain NRA-approved insurance programs that covered losses caused by firearms, even when the insured person killed or injured intentionally someone.
The 2nd Circuit said that while government officials have the right and duty to address matters of public interest, they cannot use their regulatory powers to compel individuals or entities to refrain from protected speech.
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In a decision written by Circuit Judge Denny Chin, a three-judge panel found that Vullo’s statements did not violate the law.
“To the contrary, the only plausible conclusion to be drawn is that Vullo acted reasonably and in good faith in endeavoring to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of his office,” the panel said.
In a statement released by his attorney, Vullo said the appeals court upheld the law.
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“For four years, the NRA pursued this baseless case while I stood firm in my position,” she said.
His attorney, Andrew G. Celli Jr., said in a statement that the ruling validates the work done by a “super public servant who did his job with integrity and passion.”