The National Rifle Association of America (NRA) scored a major legal victory on March 2, as a New York court struck down attempts by the New York Attorney General to dissolve the 150-year-old organization. Following a two-hour hearing on December 10, 2021, the Hon. Joel M. Cohen of the New York State Supreme Court issued an opinion today that vindicates the NRA’s position: the NYAG’s effort to shut down the Association ran afoul of common sense, New York law and the First Amendment.
“This is a resounding win for the NRA, its five million members and all who believe in this organization,” says NRA President Charles Cotton. “The message is loud and clear: The NRA is strong and secure in its mission to protect constitutional freedom.”
The NRA will defend against the surviving claims in the lawsuit—but today’s ruling declares that the NYAG cannot shut down the Association or seize its assets.
“We applaud the court’s recognition that dissolution is neither appropriate nor justified,” says William A. Brewer III, partner at Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors and counsel to the NRA. “We look forward to continuing the defense of the NRA—and proving that it acts in the best interests of its members and the Second Amendment freedoms in which they believe.”
Emphasizing that the NRA is “a prominent advocacy organization that represents the interests of millions of members,” the court said the NYAG failed to meet the “rigorous” standard for state-sponsored dissolution of such a group—and her attempt raised free speech concerns.
In an opinion, dated March 2, 2022, Justice Cohen writes, “The Attorney General’s claims to dissolve the NRA are dismissed.” It adds, “The Complaint does not allege that any financial misconduct benefited the NRA, or that the NRA exists primarily to carry out such activity, or that the NRA is incapable of continuing its legitimate activities on behalf of its millions of members.”
The NRA has argued that it has demonstrated a commitment to good governance, and long believed that the NYAG’s case was part of a political vendetta. NYAG James famously vowed to “target the NRA” and “investigate the legitimacy of the NRA as a charitable organization” while on the campaign trail in July 2018—before spending even one day in office and without any evidence of wrongdoing. She filed a lawsuit in August 2020 seeking to shut down the Association.
The NRA has successfully proven there was no legal precedent or factual basis for the NYAG’s scorched-earth, politicized approach.
The court observes, “The Attorney General cites no case in which she or her predecessors have sought—much less obtained—dissolution under analogous circumstances.” The opinion also states, “… dissolving the NRA could impinge, at least indirectly, on the free speech and assembly rights of its millions of members. While that alone would not preclude statutory dissolution if circumstances otherwise clearly warranted it, the Court believes it is a relevant factor that counsels against State-imposed dissolution, which should be the last option, not the first.”
In addition to the dissolution claims, the court also dismissed claims by the NYAG against the NRA for unjust enrichment and violations of the Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act.
Against the backdrop of the NYAG’s lawsuit, the NRA is pursuing its own legal action against James. In a legal filing, dated February 23, 2021, the NRA responded to the August 2020 lawsuit filed by the NYAG. The filing alleges that her case is part of a crusade to silence a powerful political opponent—and its stated purpose to defend the Second Amendment.
According to the NRA’s filing, “James’s threatened, and actual, regulatory and civil reprisals are a blatant and malicious retaliation campaign against the NRA and its constituents based on her disagreement with the content of their speech. This wrongful conduct threatens to destroy the NRA and chill the speech of the NRA, its members, and other constituents, including like-minded groups and their members.”
Brewer adds, “Today’s developments underscore the simple truth that since taking office in 2019, the Attorney General has pushed a contrived narrative about the NRA in her attempt to support a dissolution claim that is improper. This is a victory for not only the NRA, but all who believe in the right to free speech and association.”
Attorneys for the NRA in this matter are William A. Brewer III, Sarah Rogers and Svetlana Eisenberg.