'A politically motivated attack': Federal judge says he'll block USPS changes after mail delays
The U.S. Postal Service is facing record demand because of COVID-19 and the upcoming election. Does it have the funds to rise to the occasion? USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – A federal judge Thursday granted a request to temporarily block new operational changes within the United States Postal Service that have been criticized as causing delayed mail delivery ahead of a presidential election which is predicted to bring in a record number of mail-in ballots.
Judge Stanley Bastian, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington, found the agency was "involved in a politically motivated attack on the efficiency" which would "irreparably harm the states’ ability to administer the 2020 general election.”
During a court hearing, Bastian said he would be issuing a nationwide injunction against the USPS. The scope of the injunction was not immediately clear, with the judge saying he would provide more detail in the written order to be issued later Thursday or on Friday, according to the Washington Post.
Dave Partenheimer, USPS Spokesperson, told USA TODAY, “While we are exploring our legal options, there should be no doubt that the Postal Service is ready and committed to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives. Our number one priority is to deliver election mail on-time.”
The injunction comes after several Democratic state attorneys general sued the USPS last month, claiming Postmaster General Louis DeJoy broke the law when he administered several sweeping policy changes that disrupted mail delivery nationally.
The changes at the agency created "a substantial possibility" that "voters may be disenfranchised," Bastian said, adding "harm has already taken place."
He continued that "Substantial evidence has been presented that these transformative changes have been done by the Postal Service which has made mail delivery slower and less efficient."
DeJoy had implemented a series of cuts which included eliminating overtime for hundreds of thousands of post office employees, mandating that mail is kept until the next day if distribution centers are running behind, and removing some mail sorting machines from its facilities around the country without any official explanation.
These are the same machines that would be tasked with sorting mail-in ballots.
DeJoy announced the suspension to some changes after facing criticism, like the removal of mail processing machines and blue mailboxes, but the other adjustments remained, prompting the states to sue the Postal Service and the Trump administration.
According to the Associated Press, the states sued to stop the new "leave behind" policy, which instructs mail trucks to leave facilities punctually whether there is more mail to load or not. The lawsuit also called for election mail to be treated as First Class mail.
Bastian said that the mail delivery backlogs “likely will slow down delivery of ballots, both to the voters and back to the states” this November.
In a statement to USA TODAY, Lee Moak, Election Mail Committee Chair, USPS Board of Governors, said, “Any suggestion that there is a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service is completely and utterly without merit.”
President Donald Trump has fueled Democrats' fears over the USPS after offering conflicting statements over whether he opposes additional funds for the agency. That money is needed, advocates say, to help manage the anticipated surge of mailed-in ballots in the fall election from voters seeking to avoid crowded polling places amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Concerns about the administration's actions regarding the USPS escalated since DeJoy – a major donor to Trump's campaign with financial interests in the Postal Service's private competitors – became postmaster general in June.
DeJoy appeared before a Senate committee and a House committee in August and defended his moves, saying the Postal Service was committed to handling the nation's election mail.
Some of the Democratic officials who sued against the changes cheered the judge's decision.
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who led the coalition of Democratic attorneys general, tweeted it was a "Huge victory to protect the Postal Service."
"Big win today in one of the lawsuits to protect @USPS and stop political interference with mail delivery! The fight isn't over yet, though," tweeted New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison tweeted that Bastian "just put a nationwide block on unlawful Trump Admin policies that threaten mail delivery & could undermine our elections, in the lawsuit I joined against them w 13 other states. Huge win for Minnesotans & Americans everywhere."