Judge weighing NRA’s free speech case against New York

There’s a hearing taking place today which may well impact the future of the NRA as a viable organization in the state of New York. As you may be aware, New York, under the direction of Governor Andrew Cuomo, recently took the remarkable step of sending ominous letters to banks, insurance companies and other providers of necessary corporate services, suggesting that they “carefully consider” any relationship they might have with the National Rifle Association and to “to weigh their reputational risk” from such associations. This led to many of these providers immediately refusing to do business with the organization, leaving the NRA strained to conduct normal banking operations or obtain required insurance policies.

The NRA sued the state in June, claiming that these bullying tactics were essentially shutting down their freedom of speech in the state. The state countered by claiming that they’re not stifling anyone’s speech and asked for the suit to be dismissed. That’s the issue being considered by the judge this week. (Courthouse News)

Fending off claims that it tried to bankrupt the National Rifle Association, attorneys for the state of New York will press a federal judge Monday to dismiss the gun lobby’s free-speech suit.

The NRA brought the suit four months ago in Albany, accusing the state agency that regulates New York’s banks and insurers of using selective enforcement to harm the NRA’s longstanding corporate relationships.

“Defendants’ abuses will imminently deprive the NRA of basic bank-depository services, corporate insurance coverage, and other financial services essential to the NRA’s corporate existence and its advocacy mission,” an amended complaint filed in July states.

Facing a claim for tens of millions of dollars in damages, New York shot back that its use of enforcement actions to punish violations “do not … implicate the NRA’s First Amendment rights.”

The state is further arguing that the poison pen letters they sent to the banks and insurers about “reputational risk” are also protected government speech, so the NRA’s case has no merit.

What’s most worrisome to me is that the NRA’s attorneys chose to go after this on a free speech basis. The underlying reality may indeed be that shutting down the group’s access to banking and insurance services undercuts their ability to function inside the state, but it’s not exactly stopping anyone from “speaking.” The real problem which the judge should be addressing is that we have one of the five largest state governments in the nation essentially acting like mafia bosses. (Nice bank you’ve got there. Be a real shame if anything happened to it.) This plan that Cuomo put in place is almost identical to Barack Obama’s Operation Chokepoint which was thankfully shut down last year.

What the government is doing is sending thinly veiled threats to companies doing completely legitimate, legal business with the NRA, knowing full well that those banks and insurance providers rely heavily on the good graces of the state government for their own successful operations. That’s a gross abuse of the regulatory power of the government to advance a political agenda. To show just how bad this policy is, both the ACLU and the Texas Public Policy Foundation (who are about as ideologically far apart as you could get) are blasting New York over this and urging the judge not to scrap the case.

If this is thrown out and Cuomo and the Albany Mafia are allowed to get away with it, the door is open for state governments around the nation to pick and choose who will be able to legally do business in their states based on nothing but personal preferences. Whether it’s through a free speech supression complaint or some other legal vehicle, New York needs to be thwarted in this effort.