NRA sues New York Gov. Cuomo
The National Rifle Association of America (“NRA”) today announced that it filed a lawsuit against the New York State Department of Financial Services (“DFS”), New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and DFS Superintendent Maria T. Vullo alleging violations of the NRA’s First Amendment rights.
Filed on May 11, 2018, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, the lawsuit claims that Cuomo, Vullo, and DFS engaged in a “campaign of selective prosecution, backroom exhortations, and public threats” designed to coerce banks and insurance companies to withhold services from the NRA. The NRA argues that such tactics vastly overstep DFS’s regulatory mandate, and seek to suppress the speech of Second Amendment supporters and retaliate against the NRA and others for their political advocacy. The lawsuit seeks millions of dollars in damages to redress harms inflicted by the DFS campaign.
“Political differences aside, our client believes the tactics employed by these public officials are aimed to deprive the NRA of its First Amendment right to speak freely about gun-related issues and in defense of the Second Amendment,” says William A. Brewer III, partner at Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors and counsel to the NRA. “We believe these actions are outside the authority of DFS and fail to honor the principles which require public officials to protect the constitutional rights of all citizens.”
Among other things, the lawsuit cites a pair of “guidance” letters issued on April 19, 2018, by the DFS to the CEOs of banks and insurance companies doing business in New York. Styled as regulatory “risk management” advisories, the letters encourage institutions to “take prompt actions” to manage “reputational risk” posed by dealings with “gun promotion organizations.” The same day, Cuomo issued a press release in which Vullo directly urged “all insurance companies and banks doing business in New York” to “discontinue their arrangements with the NRA.”
The lawsuit claims that the “guidance” letters were accompanied by back-channel communications and targeted enforcement actions, which further reinforced the Cuomo administration’s message that it is bad business in New York to do business with the NRA.
Cuomo is in a surprisingly tough primary fight with actress Cynthia Nixon, who is running to Cuomo’s left. Could Cuomo be bashing the NRA, and gun rights in general, just to fend off Nixon’s challenge?
That would be cynical. Then again, this is New York politics, where cynicism has been raised to an art form.
We’re not sure how the NRA’s suit will fare, but we will be following it closely.