A federal judge on Thursday tore into the Trump administration and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy for using the United States Postal Service as “a tool in partisan politics” and instituting changes that the judge found would disenfranchise voters and diminish confidence in the upcoming elections.
The 13-page preliminary injunction from U.S. District Judge Stanley Bastian, which put a nationwide hold on Postal Service policies that have slowed service, backed up Democrats’ harshest assertions and dismissed DeJoy’s protests that he’s simply seeking to make the agency more efficient.
“Although not necessarily apparent on the surface, at the heart of DeJoy’s and the Postal Service’s actions is voter disenfranchisement,” Bastian wrote, citing the President’s own statements and “the actual impact of the changes on primary elections that resulted in uncounted ballots.”
Separately, the judge said it was easy to conclude that the changes were “an intentional effort on the part of the current administration to disrupt and challenge the legitimacy of upcoming local, state and federal elections.”
Fourteen states, led by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, sued over the changes last month.
“Today’s victory protects a critical institution for our country,” Ferguson said in a statement Thursday evening. “Americans can now confidently vote by mail and have their voices heard.”
Responding to the ruling, the election mail committee chair on USPS’ Board of Governor’s, Lee Moak, said “Any suggestion that there is a politically motivated attack on the efficiency of the Postal Service is completely and utterly without merit.” A spokesperson for the Postal Service said separately that while the agency was exploring its legal options, “the Postal Service is ready and committed to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives.”
DeJoy’s changes to the Postal Service — including barring late trips and cutting back on overtime — have resulted in mail slowdowns nationwide, as DeJoy himself acknowledged during congressional testimony last month.
Perhaps most impactful, and among the changes that Bastian froze Wednesday, is DeJoy’s insistence that Postal Service trucks depart USPS facilities “on time” — even if that means empty trucks driving mail routes because their cargo was not ready.
Bastian, in his order, quoted directly from a July USPS memo barring late trips and extra trips, referring to them as a “Leave Mail Behind” policy.
He also took aim at decommissioned mail sorting machines, noting that 72% were located in counties that favored Hillary Clinton in 2016.
“DeJoy’s actions fly in the face of Congress’s intent to insulate the management of the Postal Service from partisan politics and political influence and acknowledgement that free and fair elections depend on a reliable mail service,” Bastian wrote.
Though DeJoy last month said he was suspending certain changes in response to public backlash, a former top Postal Service official expressed skepticism due to the postmaster general’s lack of transparency and candor.
Judge Bastian was skeptical himself: Though DeJoy committed to members of Congress that election mail would be treated the same regardless of whether election officials had paid for First Class postage, he said the reality on the ground appeared otherwise.
“Plaintiffs have made an extensive showing of irreparable harm that is caused and will be caused by the Postal Service’s ‘Leave Mail Behind’ policy and the Postal Service’s refusal to ensure that election mail will be treated as First Class mail to ensure timely delivery,” he wrote.
He enjoined the Postal Service from continuing to carry out those two policies, enforcing any change listed in DeJoy’s July memo or otherwise implementing or enforcing any “change in the nature of postal services which will generally affect service on a nationwide or substantially nationwide basis” without an advisory opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission.
Any unanswered requests from USPS facilities to reboot the decommissioned mail sorting machines, Bastian said, should be brought to the court’s attention if they are necessary for the speedy processing of election mail.
Read the preliminary injunction order below:
Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.