Rule of Law

Washington v. Trump

In Washington v. Trump, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington considered, among other things, whether changes made to the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) that 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 has 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.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington granted the plaintiffs’ motion for a nationwide preliminary injunction.  Echoing our brief, the district court concluded that USPS’s recent changes “fly in the face of Congress’s intent to insulate the management of the Postal Service from partisan politics and political influence.”  The court also recognized that USPS’s changes were likely “the result of an effort by the current Administration to use the Postal Service as a tool in partisan politics, which violates the spirit and purpose of the Postal Reorganization Act and the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act.”

The injunction prohibited, among other things, the continued implementation of DeJoy’s July 2020 policy changes, including further removal of mail sorting machines, reduction of hours at USPS, and the closing of mail processing facilities.  It also required that election mail be treated as First Class mail, regardless of the paid class.

In February 2021, the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed the case.

Case Timeline

  • September 11, 2020

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

    E.D. Wash. Amici Br.
  • September 17, 2020

    The District Court for the Eastern District of Washington hears oral argument

  • September 17, 2020

    The District Court for the Eastern District of Washington issues a nationwide preliminary injunction

  • February 16, 2021

    Plaintiffs voluntarily dismiss the case

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