New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo may be facing something of an embarrassment, thanks to a federal judge’s ruling that a lawsuit filed by the National Rifle Association asserting that the governor, according to the Wall Street Journal, “stifled” the organization’s free speech rights, may move forward.
It may be the ultimate political irony; an anti-gun public official in trouble for violating the First Amendment rights of a Second Amendment group. Cuomo ran into trouble earlier in the fall for wisecracking that he thought America “was never that great” in a smack at President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan.
In his 71-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Thomas McAvoy of the Northern District of New York dug into NRA’s allegations that Cuomo used his gubernatorial muscle to discourage insurance companies and financial institutions from doing business with the association. In his ruling, the judge observed, “In the Cuomo Press Release, insurance companies and financial institutions are ‘urged’ to ‘consider reputational risk that may arise from their dealings with the NRA or similar gun promotion organizations,’ ‘take prompt actions to manag[e] these risks,’ and ‘join the companies that have already discontinued their arrangements with the NRA.’ The Guidance Letters contain similar language, ‘encourag[ing] regulated institutions to review any relationships they have with the NRA or similar gun promotion organizations, and to take prompt actions to managing these risks and promote public health and safety.”
“While neither the Guidance Letters nor the Cuomo Press Release specifically directs or even requests that insurance companies and financial institutions sever ties with the NRA,” Judge McAvoy wrote, “a plausible inference exists that a veiled threat is being conveyed.”
A few pages later, the judge reiterated, “The allegations in the Amended Complaint are sufficient to create a plausible inference that the Guidance Letters and Cuomo Press Release, when read together and in the context of the alleged backroom exhortations and the public announcements of the Consent Orders, constituted implicit threats of adverse action against financial institutions and insurers that did not disassociate from the NRA.”
Judge McAvoy rejected some of the NRA’s allegations, for example, dismissing conspiracy claims against Cuomo and Maria Vullo, superintendent of the Department of Financial Services. Several other allegations were also dismissed.
As noted by Eugene Volokh in Reason, “Thus, the critical question here is whether Defendants’ statements, including the Guidance Letters and Cuomo Press Release, threatened adverse action against banks and insurers that did not disassociate with the NRA.”
This could be one worth watching.