Georgia Lt. Gov. Casey Cagel (R) threatened on Monday to retaliate against Delta Airlines, which recently announced that it will no longer offer discounted rates to NRA members traveling to the gun lobbying group’s annual convention.
In case there is any doubt, this proposal from Cagle — who is currently running for governor in the state — is unconstitutional.
As the Supreme Court reaffirmed in its infamous Citizens United decision, corporations enjoy many of the same rights to express political views as actual people. Though these rights are somewhat more limited in the commercial context, the Roberts Court has emphasized that laws regulating commercial speech are should also be treated with skepticism by the judiciary.
“The First Amendment requires heightened scrutiny whenever the government creates ‘a regulation of speech because of disagreement with the message it conveys,'” the Court explained in Sorrell v. IMS Health. Cagle plans to punish Delta because he disagrees with the political message Delta’s decision to no longer offer a discount to NRA members conveys.
That all said, courts may be reluctant to intervene when a government official blocks legislation for impermissible reasons, rather than causing legislation to be enacted for a similar reason. Though Cagle may act with unconstitutional motives, it is difficult to predict whether a bill that did not become law would have been enacted — or whether it would have been enacted with amendments — if Cagle hadn’t engaged in illegal retaliation.
But there is a much more basic reason why Cagle may want to tread lightly before threatening retaliation against the NRA’s perceived enemies. Delta is the largest private employer in Georgia, with over 33,000 employees in the state. In other words, Delta may not need to resort to litigation to put Cagle in his place considering that it has plenty of political muscles to flex.
And Delta is hardly the only corporation that has recently reconsidered its relationship with the NRA. More than 20 businesses have severed relationships with the gun lobby in the past week, after ThinkProgress published a list of companies with corporate ties to the NRA.