In the (not so) olden days, we had Operation Choke Point. That was the Obama Justice Department’s 2013 effort to squeeze firearms-related firms by threatening banks and other financial institutions that dared to do business with them. That legal and financial intimidation finally ended in 2017 with the change of administrations.
Now that the federal government’s no longer trying to effect extra-legislative gun control via prosecutorial and regulatory coercion, the state of New York has happily stepped into that role.
As we’ve written in the past, Governor Andrew Cuomo and his Superintendent of Financial Services, Maria T. Vullo, have taken up where Operation Choke Point left off, specifically targeting financial firms that do business with the National Rifle Association.
The NRA responded to New York’s efforts to force it into insolvency by filing suit against Cuomo and Vullo in May, claiming violations of their First Amendment rights. You can read the complaint here.
Today, as the Courthouse New Service is reporting, the Hon. Thomas J. McAvoy of the Northern District of New York will hear arguments from the state in an attempt to have the suit dismissed.
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.”
New York argues as well that the guidance letters it sends to banks and insurers qualify as protected government speech.
“The NRA has failed to – because it cannot – allege any particularized instances of speech that have directly been stifled by defendants’ alleged conduct,” the state argued in a motion to dismiss last month.
We don’t know about the merits of the First Amendment arguments alleged in the suit, but Governor Soprano has made no bones about his efforts to squeeze the NRA just as hard as he can. As he told MSNBC,
I think these are bad guys. … Look, from my point of view, I do disagree with them politically. And if they have less money to bully and threaten politicians into irrational positions, you know, I’m not going to lose any sleep over that. And if they went away, you know, I would offer my thoughts and prayers, Joe. Just like they do every time we have another situation with innocents losing their lives.
There’s also the fact that the American Civil Liberties Union — of all people — has taken the NRA’s side in the case.
In a brief filed in federal court today, the ACLU argues that New York’s strong-arm efforts to compel banks and insurance companies to ditch the NRA as a customer represent a glaring violation of the First Amendment.
“Although public officials are free to express their opinions and may condemn viewpoints or groups they view as inimical to public welfare, they cannot abuse their regulatory authority to retaliate against disfavored advocacy organizations and to impose burdens on those organizations’ ability to conduct lawful business,” the ACLU says.
Again, that’s not a quote from Alan Gura or Larry Keane, that’s from our friends at the ACLU.
As to what will happen in court today, your guess is as good as ours. But however the judge rules, this isn’t close to being over.