(Official Washington Examiner editorial, June 2)  Since the minute it was ratified, the First Amendment has been as clear as water on one thing: Government officials may not use their power to punish or abridge political viewpoints.

That’s the whole point of the “speech” part of the amendment.

Because power-hungry functionaries keep refusing to abide by that bright-line rule, the Supreme Court periodically steps in to remind us. That’s what it did on May 30 in National Rifle Association of America v. Vullo, when all nine justices ruled that Maria Vullo, former superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services, improperly pressured insurance companies and banks to deny the NRA access to their services.

The case wasn’t complicated. Vullo found a minor infraction in insurance that Lloyd’s of London and Chubb Limited had underwritten, through which the NRA provided its members access to insurance. Vullo then told Lloyd’s officials she wouldn’t penalize the company if it agreed to stop underwriting all firearm-related policies and substantially scaled back its NRA business.

Then, in a guidance letter to all entities regulated by her department, Vullo specifically discouraged them from doing business with the NRA and to consider “reputational risks” involved in doing so. In a joint press release with then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Vullo went even further, “urging all insurance companies and banks doing business in New York” to “discontinue their arrangement with the NRA.” Vullo’s department entered consent decrees with Lloyd’s and Chubb in which the latter agreed to not provide insurance through the NRA, even if otherwise lawful.

Vullo also made clear to Lloyd’s that she wanted to hobble all gun groups, and that (to quote the case syllabus) “she would ‘focus’ her enforcement actions ‘solely’ on the syndicates with ties to the NRA, and ‘ignore other syndicates writing similar policies.’”

Vullo’s actions were obviously coercive. If all the facts as presented in this case are found to be accurate when the case goes back to lower courts, then Vullo “used the power of her office to target gun promotion by going after the NRA’s business partners.”

All nine justices rightly considered this case not according to their like or dislike of the NRA, but as a matter of First Amendment protection…. [The full editorial is at this link.]

 

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