The National Rifle Association wasn’t in a good spot. I mean, anytime the government declares a personal jihad against you in a vehemently anti-gun state, it’s not a good thing by any measure.
After all, New York Attorney General Letitia James wasn’t just trying to penalize the group—she was trying to literally destroy it.
That’s not hyperbole, either. I know people use “literally” to mean “figuratively” all the time, but James was pretty clear that she wanted the NRA to be dissolved as the result of her actions.
Well, according to the judge in the case, she’s isn’t going to get her wish.
A judge has rejected an effort by New York’s attorney general to put the National Rifle Association out of business. But the judge will allow James’ lawsuit accusing top executives of illegally diverting tens of millions of dollars from the powerful gun advocacy organization to proceed.
Manhattan Judge Joel M. Cohen said allegations of NRA officials misspending on personal trips, no-show contracts, and other questionable expenditures can be addressed by other remedies, such as fines and restitution. Cohen said they do not warrant the “corporate death penalty” that Attorney General Letitia James had sought.
James’ lawsuit, filed in August 2020, tells “a grim story of greed, self-dealing, and lax financial oversight” at the NRA’s highest levels, but it does not allege any financial misconduct benefited the organization or harmed the public, or that the NRA is incapable of “continuing its legitimate activities on behalf of its millions of members,” Cohen wrote in a 42-page decision.
The judge also raised concerns that shutting down the NRA could impinge the free speech and assembly rights of its millions of members. Nevertheless, he said, James’ lawsuit can continue against the NRA, its longtime leader Wayne LaPierre, and three men who have served as executives with the organization.
Frankly, I agree with the judge. This is a free speech issue, in part because James had previously referred to the NRA as a terrorist organization. Her comments make it pretty clear that this wasn’t truly about allegations of malfeasance by the organization’s leadership—it was politically motivated.
If LaPierre and others were doing something illegal, the victims of that would be the membership. How could it be just to dissolve the organization—thus depriving the victims in this case of their organization—rather than focusing exclusively on the alleged bad actors?
Frankly, I didn’t think James had a chance of winning this, but since the lawsuit was taking place in anti-gun New York, I couldn’t say definitively. Now, the judge has ruled and the NRA is safe and clear.
That doesn’t mean the leadership that’s under fire is in the clear. Not by a longshot. Yet if they acted inappropriately, they deserve to remain under fire. In fact, they deserve to go to prison if guilty of the allegations against them.
But James wasn’t interested in just righting wrongs. She wanted to score a key political victory that would likely propel her into much higher office.
Judge Cohen just killed those hopes and dreams, as he should have.
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