There were reports that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was being considered as a potential nominee for the post of Attorney General of the United States. Cuomo brushed off those reports, claiming to have “no interest” in going to D.C. again. This is a development that should have many Americans sighing with relief.
Why should the prospect of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo cause dread? The answer is that going back over two decades, Cuomo has shown an inclination to use the coercive power of government to obtain policy outcomes, often in contravention of the established constitutional procedures, and even involving the abuse of government power.
To get the first glimpse of this pattern, we really need to look at his efforts while Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. In the 1990s, anti-Second Amendment groups, having faced significant reverses after the 1994 midterm elections, began seeking to use a flood of litigation from major metropolitan areas to try to force firearms manufacturers to accept certain restrictions that had been defeated numerous times at the federal and state level, as an amicus brief filed in a 2019 case that the Supreme Court declined to hear.
Then-Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Cuomo planned to tilt the balance by having the department file a class-action suit to drown gun manufacturers in legal fees. In March of 2000, he was able to coerce Smith and Wesson into settling. A look at that agreement, as provided by the archives of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, shows a number of the restrictions that would have been imposed. Shortly after the settlement was announced, Cuomo ordered that Smith and Wesson be given preferential treatment in bids by the agency he ran, drawing a lawsuit from other gun manufacturers. Eventually, the litigation campaign was halted by the passage of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act of 2005.
However, there was precious little accountability for Cuomo’s actions. He would later become attorney general of New York and then ascend to the governorship. He would sign into law major restrictions on Second Amendment rights, and in 2014, he would later make an ominous pronouncement. During a radio interview, he would declare that pro-life and pro-Second Amendment people had “no place in New York.”
Cuomo’s comments drew a firestorm of criticism from the right, but the mainstream media gave it a pass. In one sense, the comments were a warning that should have been heeded, especially in the wake of Donald Trump’s upset victory in the 2016 presidential election. According to an August 2020 legal filing filed by the NRA in 2017 in one of its legal battles with the state of New York, then-New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, warned a member of the organization’s Board of Directors about plans to retaliate against the gun-rights advocacy group for its part in the 2016 election.
The pretext would come on February 14, 2018. On that date, there would be a mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The following April, Cuomo issued a press release, announcing that he had directed state regulators to urge banks and insurance companies to factor in the “reputational risks” of doing business with the National Rifle Association and to “take prompt actions to manage these risks and promote public health and safety.”
The goal was simple: Cuomo intended to use the regulatory powers (or the threat of their use) as a means to leverage banks and insurance companies into denying the NRA access to the types of financial services necessary for it to operate. FinRegRag.com noted, “If the NYDFS had no intention of threatening regulatory sanctions, they could clearly have added language taking the threat of enforcement off of the table. They didn’t, which indicates they want NY FIs to think there is a potential the government will come after them if they don’t end their relationships with groups like the NRA.”
As if to prove FinRegRag.com’s theory, New York’s regulators followed up those letters with action against two companies that did business with the NRA, Lockton, and Chubb. As part of settling New York’s claims, both companies severed business ties with the NRA. The NRA filed suit in federal court, and reportedly now has evidence that shows Cuomo selectively enforced regulations in retaliation against the group for exercising its First Amendment rights to defend the Second Amendment. In a sign that Cuomo’s jihad against the NRA could also target those who provided evidence of his coercive tactics, the NRA had to file some of the bombshell evidence it acquired under seal.
In the wake of that suit, Cuomo all but admitted his goal was to bankrupt his most prominent political opponent, and even Tweeted that should the NRA go broke, they’d be in his “thoughts and prayers.” The blatant abusiveness of his actions was such that both the American Civil Liberties Union and noted legal scholar Arthur Miller has sided with the NRA at various points in the group’s battle.
At the same time, Cuomo began to use the power of the state to target dissenters against his preferred environmental policies, too. In 2018, the state targeted ExxonMobil. By the end of 2019, however, that case had collapsed and was dismissed with prejudice. In 2016, though, there had been a campaign by a number of states, including New York and California, to target so-called “climate denial” using the Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act. The 2016 effort reportedly also targeted libertarian and conservative groups who spoke out against the preferred environmental policies of the elected officials in New York.
But you don’t just have to look at major political non-profits to see Andrew Cuomo’s pattern of suppressing dissent. You can look at smaller-scale actions as well. According to the Washington Examiner, one such victim is Abby Ehmann. Ehmann owns a bar in Manhattan called Lucky. She also started a petition on Change.org urging an easing of some of the restrictions placed on drinking establishments and eateries in response to the Wuhan coronavirus. Within a week of the petition being started, state regulators carried out an inspection at her bar. Shortly afterward, her liquor license was suspended, a potential death sentence for her establishment. Was the timing of that inspection a coincidence?
Similarly, as Orthodox Jews have been among those suing New York over restrictions placed on places of worship, they, too are facing the governor’s wrath. Again, Cuomo is threatening retaliation and repercussions for those who exercise their constitutional rights and who don’t fall in line with what he wants. The CBS affiliate in New York City reported that Cuomo was threatening funding for yeshivas.
“I guarantee if a yeshiva gets closed down, and they’re not going to get state funding, you will see compliance,” Cuomo said. Even after drawing fire, a spokesman claimed the criticism of his thuggish approach was “Trump partisanship by political operatives ignoring science.”
Andrew Cuomo’s abuses don’t generate a lot of outraged press. But despite the media largely giving those abuses a pass, the pattern is still strikingly clear. For over two decades, Cuomo has often used the threat of bankruptcy – usually via the leveraging of regulatory power, litigation, or other methods – to coerce people into going along with his agenda, or to silence political opponents. The fact that Joe Biden is considering him for Attorney General should frighten any American who values our constitutional rights.
Harold Hutchison has nearly two decades of experience covering a variety of topics, including politics, national security affairs, foreign policy, Second Amendment issues, and sports. He has been published in numerous media outlets, including National Review, the Daily Caller, the Patriot Post, Ammoland.com, and the Washington Examiner.