NY, NJ Sue Trump Administration For Allegedly Undermining USPS and Election

New York, New Jersey, Hawaii and several cities want the court to declare the mail disruptions unconstitutional

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A coalition of states and cities from across the country, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, have filed a lawsuit to stop the Trump Administration’s alleged attempts to dismantle the U.S. Postal Service and disrupt operations in an effort to undermine the upcoming presidential election.

The suit — filed Tuesday against President Donald Trump, the USPS, and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy — comes a day after DeJoy finished testifying before Congress on the policies he implemented that have slowed mail operations across the nation and his subsequent refusal to reverse the policies.

Joining New York Attorney General Letitia James in filing Tuesday’s lawsuit are the attorneys general of Hawaii and New Jersey, as well as the city of New York and the city and county of San Francisco.

In recent weeks, the USPS — under DeJoy’s directives — has begun to scale back operations that would significantly undermine the USPS’s ability to handle what is expected to be a record number of mail-in ballots this November because of the COVID-19 pandemic, James' office said, adding that the slowdown is already having life-threatening impacts on veterans and seniors who are not receiving medication and economic impacts on individuals waiting for their pensions and paychecks.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, argues that recent changes to USPS operations under DeJoy’s leadership have had an impact in service -- substantially delaying USPS mail in New York and across the country. The plaintiffs allege that the changes -- which include dismantling hundreds of mail-sorting machines, reducing the number of public mailboxes, and rolling back postal worker overtime -- are unlawful because they were implemented without a required public hearing before the Postal Regulatory Commission.

"The United States Postal Service has been thrown into chaos. Thanks to a series of sweeping policy changes beleaguered by partisan meddling, the independent agency has become a political football set to undermine a federal election," the lawsuit starts off. "At a time when Americans are depending on the mail to secure food, housing, medicine, and more in the middle of a pandemic, these changes are triggering dramatic delays. Mail is piling up in facilities for days and weeks; delivery trucks are running routes without any mail to deliver; and postal workers are left scrambling to process mail with less equipment, less time, and less staff. These policy changes are also interfering with the administration of myriad state and local government functions, and, unless vacated or enjoined, will endanger state and local plans for the November election as well."

Although, DeJoy has said the changes will be suspended, the lawsuit notes, he has said he will not reverse the actions already taken, including that the removed sorting machines and other equipment will not be returned. The lawsuit also says DeJoy has not presented a plan to restore timely mail service.

According to James' office, these changes are a significant departure from the USPS service standards, fail to comply to the USPS’s statutory obligations, and fail to recognize USPS’s historic and critical role at a time when the country — due in part to the current COVID-19 pandemic — are relying on mail for services.

Asked by Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., Monday if he would commit to reverse delay-causing changes to the U.S. Postal Service, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said, “No.”

Additionally, the lawsuit also claims that one of the Postal Service’s “most critical functions” is to support federal, State and local elections through the delivery of election materials such as ballots, voter registration cards, absentee applications and polling place notifications.

The suit further alleges that changes in USPS operations are in line with President Donald Trump’s repeated and public statements in opposition to mail-in voting and his intent to impair the delivery of mailed ballots by cutting off USPS resources needed to operate because mailed ballots would allegedly harm Republicans’ abilities to win elections, even going so far as to make clear last month in a tweet that “Republicans, in particular, cannot let this happen!”

James, a Democrat, said the changes amounted to voter suppression, with Trump admitting earlier this month that he wanted to hamper the postal service’s processing of mail-in ballots, which he feared could tilt the election to Democratic rival Joe Biden.

“Voting by mail is safe, secure, and reliable and we intend to keep it that way for New Jerseyans. Americans will vote by mail in record numbers this November and the Postal Service’s dramatic changes threaten to disenfranchise voters by disrupting mail service. We will continue working with other state Attorneys General to protect the election and voter rights,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement.

News 4 New York reached out to the Department of Justice for comment.

Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif., asked Postmaster General Louis DeJoy if he knew how many people voted by mail in the 2016 presidential election. “I would be guessing, and I don’t want to guess,” he responded.

For more than 200 years, the federal postal service has provided reliable, vital services to millions of Americans, and, for the last 50 years, the USPS has acted as an independent agency — severed from the president’s cabinet — in an effort to ensure its political independence, according to the lawsuit.

"For fifty years, the U.S. Postal Service has been an independent agency overseen by a board of governors. But as the COVID-19 pandemic began shutting down cities, counties, and states, the Trump Administration made concerted efforts to interfere with the agency and with states’ plans to expand mail-in voting due to the public health crisis. President Trump repeatedly, emphatically, and openly attempted to undermine mail-in voting efforts and the U.S. Postal Service’s ability to ensure the timely delivery of ballots. At the same time, Trump Administration officials were directing changes in the agency’s processes," the lawsuit reads.

“This USPS slowdown is nothing more than a voter suppression tactic,” James said in a statement. “Yet, this time, these authoritarian actions are not only jeopardizing our democracy and fundamental right to vote, but the immediate health and financial well-being of Americans across the nation. We will do everything in our power to stop the president’s power grab and ensure every eligible voter has the opportunity to cast a ballot come November.”

Grewal shared similar sentiments, saying in a statement: “The Postal Service’s unofficial motto states that ‘neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,’” said Attorney General Grewal. “The Postal Service has served Americans well since our country’s founding. We are filing this lawsuit to ensure that even politically motivated cutbacks won’t prevent the timely delivery of our residents’ mail.”

Lawmakers in New Jersey are calling out the president over his handling of the USPS. Brian Thompson reports.

DeJoy told lawmakers on Monday that election mail is his “No. 1 priority,” saying he will authorize expanded overtime, extra truck trips and other measures in the weeks before the election to ensure on-time delivery of ballots.

DeJoy disputed reports that he eliminated overtime for postal workers and said a Postal Service document outlining overtime restrictions was written by a mid-level manager. Last week, DeJoy said he was halting some of his operational changes “to avoid even the appearance of impact on election mail.”

Still, DeJoy vehemently refused to restore decommissioned mail-sorting machines and blue collection boxes, saying they are not needed. He also said he would continue policies limiting when mail can go out as well as a halting of late delivery trips, which postal workers have said contributes to delays.

“I am not engaged in sabotaging the election,” DeJoy said.

James’ lawsuit is the third filed by state attorneys general seeking to reverse changes to the postal service’s operations.

This latest lawsuit comes a little over a week after several individuals including candidates for public office sued Trump and the U.S. Postal Service and its new postmaster general in New York on Monday to ensure adequate funding for postal operations.

That lawsuit was filed in Manhattan federal court as multiple lawsuits were threatened across the country as a response to comments the president recently made and actions taken by newly appointed Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to change operations at post offices nationwide.

The lawsuit also alleges that Trump and DeJoy are trying to ensure the postal service cannot reliably deliver election mail.

Last week, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, both Democrats, filed lawsuits in collaboration with other states. James said those cases differed from hers, leading her to file a separate lawsuit.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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