Rule of Law

Bullock v. USPS

In Bullock v. USPS the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana considered, among other things, whether changes made to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) that would have affected service nationwide violated a federal law that Congress passed to protect USPS from partisan influence and ensure its accountability to the public.

Case Summary

In June and July 2020, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy initiated several major changes that have had a significant effect on the nature of postal services nationwide.  At DeJoy’s direction, USPS removed collection boxes and high-speed mail sorting machines, as well as reduced employee overtime pay and delivery hours.  USPS also notified 46 states and the District of Columbia that it could not guarantee timely delivery of mail-in ballots for the November election, just as many states saw significant increases in the number of voters who used the mail to cast primary election ballots and who planned to do the same in the general election due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Postal Reorganization Act, as amended, 39 U.S.C. § 3661(b), requires USPS to notify the Postal Regulatory Commission whenever it seeks to make “a change in the nature of postal services which will generally affect service on a nationwide or substantially nationwide basis.”  The Postal Regulatory Commission must then conduct a hearing and allow the public to weigh in before issuing a written advisory opinion to USPS on how to proceed.  These procedures must be completed before USPS implements its proposed changes.

Here, USPS did not notify the Postal Regulatory Commission of any of its proposed changes, and it failed to give the public an opportunity to weigh in before implementing them.  Several states, cities, organizations, and individuals filed suits around the country arguing, among other things, that USPS violated the Postal Reorganization Act by making changes that disrupted national mail service without following the statutorily mandated processes.

CAC filed an amici curiae brief on behalf of Members of Congress in support of the plaintiffs.  Our brief explained that since the nation’s founding, the postal system has played a pivotal role in American society by facilitating the free flow of information.  Congress has regularly made changes to ensure access to the mail for all people, regardless of physical location or socioeconomic status.  The brief explained that the post was key to the dissemination of anti-slavery materials in the nineteenth century.  Today, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, a reliable postal system is no less essential, particularly in ensuring that all Americans have a safe way to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

Our brief then detailed the statutorily required processes USPS must follow whenever it seeks to make changes that would significantly impact mail services nationwide.  In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson commissioned a study on the organization of the postal system.  The resulting report found that the Post Office Department was not capable of meeting the demands of a growing economy and population, partly because it was an executive department of the government, rather than an independent institution free from political interests and pressures.  As a result, Congress passed the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, as amended by the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, which created USPS as an independent establishment and required it to notify the Postal Regulatory Commission of any proposed changes that will generally affect service on a substantially nationwide basis and to allow for public input on those changes.  These requirements were part of Congress’s plan to insulate USPS from political influence.

Finally, our brief argued that by failing to notify the Postal Regulatory Commission of its intended changes and failing to allow for public input, USPS has violated federal law and acted contrary to Congress’s plan in passing that law.

On October 14, 2020, Governor Bullock of Montana and USPS reached an agreement to postpone the implementation of USPS’s recent changes until after the November 3 general election.  The agreement prohibited “the removal of collection boxes, the closure or consolidation of mail processing facilities, and the removal of mail sorting machines,” among other things.  Significantly, the agreement also stipulated that USPS “shall prioritize the delivery of Election Mail in a timely manner.”  This agreement was a significant step toward ensuring a free and fair general election and upholding the rule of law.

In light of the settlement agreement, the District Court for the District of Montana dismissed the case on December 1, 2020.

Case Timeline

  • September 29, 2020

    CAC files amici curiae brief on behalf of current U.S. Senators

    D. Mont. Amici Br.
  • October 14, 2020

    USPS and Governor Bullock reach an agreement to postpone changes at USPS until after November 3

  • December 1, 2020

    The District Court for the District of Montana dismisses the case