States plan pair of lawsuits over postal changes

Two coalitions of states announced plans on Tuesday for a pair of lawsuits against the U.S. Postal Service over changes that critics say could imperil the delivery of tens of millions of ballots in the November election.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said they planned to launch separate suits seeking to reverse alterations to postal delivery procedures, the removal of mail sorting machines and limits on overtime that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has rolled out in recent weeks.

The beleaguered Postal Service is suddenly at the center of a white-hot political and legal fight as Democrats accuse President Donald Trump and DeJoy — a longtime Republican donor and businessman tapped to oversee the agency — of unleashing chaos and cutbacks at the agency in order to undermine efforts to collect a large volume of ballots by mail because of coronavirus concerns.

“We will be taking action to reinstate Postal Service standards that all Americans depend on, whether it’s for delivering their prescription drugs or for carrying their very right to vote,” Shapiro said in a statement. “Recent post office changes have been implemented recklessly, before checking the law, and we will use our authority to stop them and help ensure that every eligible ballot is counted.”

Ferguson said: “For partisan gain, President Trump is attempting to destroy a critical institution that is essential for millions of Americans. We rely on the Postal Service for our Social Security benefits, prescriptions — and exercising our right to vote. Our coalition will fight to protect the Postal Service and uphold the rule of law in federal court.”

Attorneys general from California, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts and North Carolina are expected to join the Pennsylvania suit, while their counterparts in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin serve as plaintiffs in the Washington state litigation.

The planned suits follow similar cases filed in federal courts in New York and Washington, D.C., on Monday on behalf of voters and political candidates who say changes underway at the Postal Service threaten to nullify elections at all levels this fall.

DeJoy, who has been called to testify about the issues before a Senate committee this week and a House panel next week, announced on Tuesday that he planned to hold off on any further changes through the election.

“The Postal Service is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall,” DeJoy wrote.

“I came to the Postal Service to make changes to secure the success of this organization and its long-term sustainability,” the postmaster general added. “I believe significant reforms are essential to that objective, and work toward those reforms will commence after the election. … To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail, I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded.”

DeJoy said he would not alter post office hours, remove mail sorting equipment or boxes, or close facilities, and would approve overtime as needed.

“The Postal Service is ready today to handle whatever volume of election mail it receives this fall,” he insisted.

Lawyers involved in preparing the new suits said they would proceed despite DeJoy’s statement, which did not agree to roll back changes already instituted.

Following DeJoy’s announcement, a spokesperson for Maryland’s attorney general, Brian Frosh, told POLITICO that “our suit moves forward.”

Ferguson, the Washington state attorney general, said in a statement: “This isn’t the first time the Trump Administration has reversed course immediately after we highlighted egregious procedural violations. We will be watching closely to ensure that the Postmaster General’s statement is implemented. Until then, we are continuing to move forward with our lawsuit to protect the Postal Service and mail-in voting.”