Last month we noted that the ACLU had filed a brief on the side of the NRA in its regulatory-retaliation First Amendment suit against New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The brief “strikes me as quite sound legally,” writes Eugene Volokh, who quotes and annotates its text. But the action has roused passionate opposition within the organization itself, reports Mark Joseph Stern at Slate. For example, the ACLU’s New York affiliate declined to join the brief and its officials issued a public statement critical of it. Among their arguments: the NRA “has enormous resources and is fully able to present its First Amendment claim.” Others argue that the dispute is at least in part fact-intensive and does not rest entirely on First Amendment issues, since Cuomo had denounced a particular insurance product marketed by the NRA as unlawful — although the governor’s own statements make clear that his call for regulators to squeeze the group’s finances went beyond that, and indeed included a call for them to put the squeeze on groups with advocacy missions similar to the NRA’s. Yet other factions within the ACLU charge that for it to side with the NRA is to advance “white supremacy.” More: Scott Greenfield.
The legal role the ACLU is playing here, it should be noted, is amicus, as distinct from pro bono defense. As Howard Wasserman, writing at PrawfsBlawg, notes:
The resources argument (putting aside whether it has any merit) strikes me as inapposite in this case. The ACLU is not representing the NRA in this case, so any expenditure of ACLU resources does not relieve the NRA of the burden to spend money on its own lawyers to make its own arguments. The benefit of the ACLU’s brief, on which it did expend some of its limited resources, is to the NRA’s legal position, not to its wallet. An argument that the ACLU not only should not represent well-resourced parties* but should not provide amicus support for well-resourced parties seems over-inclusive, tying the merits of a party’s constitutional position to the money in its bank account.