Attorney General James Sues to Stop President Trump from Undermining U.S. Postal Service and November Presidential Election

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James today led a coalition of states and cities from across the country in filing a lawsuit to stop the Trump Administration’s attempts to dismantle the United States Postal Service (USPS) and disrupt operations in an effort to undermine the November presidential election. The suit — filed against President Donald Trump, the USPS, and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy — comes a day after the postmaster general finished testifying before Congress in which he refused to reverse policies that have slowed mail operations across the nation. In recent weeks, the USPS — under General 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 coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. 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.

“This USPS slowdown is nothing more than a voter suppression tactic,” said Attorney General James. “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.”

The U.S. federal mail system has been a critical part of American infrastructure since before the United States declared its independence. 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. But, earlier this year — in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic — a new postmaster general was appointed, who immediately led efforts to begin an “operational pivot” to overhaul how the USPS collects, processes, and delivers mail throughout the country.

In today’s lawsuit — filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia — Attorney General James leads the coalition of three states and two cities in arguing that significant and recent changes to USPS operations under DeJoy’s leadership have substantially delayed USPS mail in New York and across the country. These include removing mailboxes and mail sorting machines, curtailing overtime for USPS staff, prohibiting late and extra trips that ensure mail is delivered on a timely and consistent basis, institutionalizing other policies that cause further delays, and creating confusion regarding what election mail standards the USPS will follow in advance of the November general election. 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 the resources needed for the USPS to operate because mailed ballots would specifically 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!”

These changes reflect a significant departure from the USPS service standards, fail to adhere to the USPS’s statutory obligations, and fail to recognize USPS’s historic and critical role in America’s infrastructure. Further disconcerting is the fact that these changes come at a time when New York and the rest of the country — due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic — are relying on mail more than ever to deliver timely and critical services, including medication and other items, legal notices, and, crucially, election mail, as Americans near the November general election.

The USPS is an essential part of the U.S. economy, providing vital services at levels that no other delivery system comes close to providing, including:

  • Nearly 120 million Veterans Affairs' prescriptions are sent annually by mail;
  • 20 percent of adults over the age of 40 who take medication for a chronic condition receive prescriptions by mail, and more than half of the people who receive medication by mail are over the age of 65;
  • 18 percent of Americans pay their bills via the mail, including 40 percent of seniors;
  • Nearly one in five Americans receive their tax refund through the mail;
  • Approximately 40 percent of small businesses send packages through the USPS monthly; and
  • More than 42 million ballots were mailed to Americans in the 2018 midterms, and 80 percent of overseas members of armed services who voted did so by mail in 2018.

The USPS’s recent changes will have a significant impact on all Americans. The USPS currently delivers 48 percent of the world’s mail, and in fiscal year 2019, delivered 143 billion pieces of mail to 160 million delivery addresses. In New York alone, the number of voters who will cast an absentee ballot is anticipated to be at least 10 times the number of such voters who cast absentee ballots in the 2016 presidential election — expected to exceed more than one million this year — despite the decrease in COVID-19 infections New York is seeing from its peak earlier this year. States that are still seeing significant surges in COVID-19 infections may see even larger increases in the number of voters requesting to vote by mail or by absentee ballot. Limiting these vote by mail options may result in voters further risking their health by voting in-person during an unprecedented pandemic. 

The USPS is currently capable of delivering ballots to any American who requests one. In fact, just last week, the USPS publicly stated that even if all 330+ million Americans in the country requested some form of a vote by mail ballot, that would only account for 75 percent of a single day’s mail delivery, which typically tops 470 million pieces of mail each day. But efforts to drastically alter USPS’s operations could severely undermine the USPS’s ability to fulfill these requests.

Attorney General James and the coalition specifically argue that efforts to undermine both the USPS and the November elections are in violation of the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, the Postal Reorganization Act, and the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The coalition asks the court to vacate all the recent changes made by the USPS and halt the USPS from further implementing the changes on the grounds that they violate statutory and constitutional law.

Today’s filing was lauded by many members of the New York congressional delegation.

“The Post Office is as American as motherhood, baseball, and apple pie,” said U.S. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8). “The American people count on them to deliver social security benefits, medicine, unemployment insurance checks, ballots, and other essential items. No American should ever have to choose between their health and their constitutional right to vote. I applaud Attorney General Letitia James for bringing this lawsuit on behalf of New Yorkers to help stop the shameful attacks by the Trump administration on the USPS and our election system.”

“The Trump Administration is not even trying to hide it anymore. Their obvious attempt to tip the scales of this upcoming election by manipulating the Postal Service is one of the most brazen acts of lawlessness I have ever witnessed in my years as a legislator,” said U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (NY-16). “Those who downplay the seriousness of this moment do our country a grave disservice. I applaud the Attorney General and other attorneys general across the country for leading the legal battle against this latest attack on our democracy.”

“The Trump Administration’s campaign to sabotage the Postal Service — through Postmaster General DeJoy’s harmful directives — has resulted in unacceptable wait times for mail across the country and has threatened to silence the voices of millions of voters just months before the election,” said U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (NY-10). “Postmaster General DeJoy has no intention of working to reverse the other damages that his directives have inflicted. He made this clear on Monday, when he testified before Congress that he would not allow the return of mail sorting machines that were removed. That is why the House of Representatives took swift action by passing legislation to block Postmaster General DeJoy’s directives and fully fund the Postal Service. I am proud that my Attorney General, Letitia James, is leading the fight at the state and local level to restore integrity to our Postal Service and protect our right to a free and fair election.” 

“The United States Postal Service is an institution built on trust. For nearly 250 years, with confidence, the Postal Service has delivered on its guarantee to serve the American people," said U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins (NY-26). “In just a few months, this Postmaster has managed to undermine that guarantee, the people’s Constitutional right to this public service and our democracy. We commend Attorney General James for protecting Americans from this disaster of a Postmaster and safeguarding the future of the United States Postal Service.”  

“Millions of New Yorkers rely on our Postal Service to stay in touch with loved ones, to get their prescriptions on time, and to vote. President Trump has made it clear that he intends to weaken our USPS for no reason other than to gain a political advantage,” said U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko (NY-20). “We reconvened the House this weekend to stop this abuse and pass the Delivering for America Act, legislation I co-sponsored, to restore service levels and prevent further degradation ahead of the November election. My thanks to Attorney General James for exercising her full authority to make it clear that New York won’t stand by in the face of these baseless political attacks on our constitutionally protected right to vote.”

“New Yorkers across the Hudson Valley rely on the USPS every day to deliver prescription drugs, important mail, and now — during an unprecedented pandemic — their vote,” said U.S. Rep Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18). “The Trump Administration’s attack on this vital service is reckless, political, and will not stand. I’m proud to support my friend Attorney General James in this fight and demand the president stops attacking our Postal Service for his personal gain.” 

“I applaud the tremendous leadership of our Attorney General Letitia James, who in leading this lawsuit, is fighting to make sure that voters are not disenfranchised by President Trump," said U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (NY-6). "The unprecedented assault that the President and his administration have launched against the Postal Service has been shameful and disgusting. The right to vote is under attack and we must do everything possible to stop the President from silencing the voices of voters. I am proud to support Attorney General James' efforts, and I will continue to work with her in this fight, and do all I can ensure that no barriers exist for those who cast their ballots by mail.”

 “The U.S. Postal Service, and the millions of us who depend on it, are under threat by the president and his administration,” said U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (NY-4). “It is imperative that we use every tool at our disposal to protect the Postal Service from these political attacks. I was proud to vote for the Delivering for America Act this weekend and I commend Attorney General James for filing this lawsuit to defend this critical public institution at a time when its services are needed more than ever.”

“This past weekend, I joined my House Democratic colleagues to pass the ‘Delivering for America Act,’ that would require the USPS to return to levels of postal service operations that were in place on January 1, 2020 throughout the duration of the coronavirus public health emergency and would require that all election mail to be treated as First Class Mail. House passage of the bill comes at a critical time as newly uncovered internal Postal Service documents expose steep declines and increasing delays nationwide of USPS services and the impact to residents,” said U.S. Rep Adriano Espaillat (NY-13). “The Postal Service is essential to the fabric of our communities, providing New York families and all Americans with critical services, including the delivery of life-saving prescriptions, Social Security benefits, paychecks, tax returns and ballots. I am proud to stand with New York Attorney General James in support of today’s effort to stop the Trump administration’s attempts to dismantle the USPS. We must continue our fight to protect the rights of New Yorkers and stand with millions of Americans across the country in opposition to Donald Trump’s dangerous attack on the Postal Service and to the life and vibrancy of our American Democracy.”

“Thank you to Attorney General Letitia James for helping to protect the Postal Service,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (NY-3). “Operations and service levels at the United States Postal Service should never be swayed by politics. Americans of every stripe, particularly veterans and seniors, count on the USPS to deliver not only mail-in ballots, but also prescription medications, paychecks, Social Security benefits, legal documents, and much more.”

“Millions of Americans rely on USPS to deliver Social Security checks, prescription medication, and more — by defunding the postal service, Donald Trump is literally jeopardizing the health and well-being of the American people for his own political gain,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Morelle (NY-25). “We won’t stand for it. I’m grateful to Attorney General Letitia James for taking charge to hold the Trump Administration accountable and protect families across America.”

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

This lawsuit is being handled by Chief Counsel for Federal Initiatives Matthew Colangelo, Assistant Attorney General Daniela Nogueira, and Special Counsel Morenike Fajana — all of the Executive Division; as well as Assistant Attorney General Lindsay McKenzie of the Civil Rights Bureau. The Civil Rights Bureau is a part of the Division for Social Justice. Both the Executive Division and the Division for Social Justice are overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.