Pennsylvania is suing the U.S. Postal Service and its leader, joining about 20 other states in a high-stakes legal battle to prevent mail delays that have already left residents across the state unable to access critical services and threatened the vote-by-mail system.
Just as the new lawsuits were being announced Tuesday, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy said the Postal Service will suspend planned changes until after the November election.
“To avoid even the appearance of any impact on election mail,” DeJoy said in a statement, “I am suspending these initiatives until after the election is concluded.”
Recent Postal Service policy changes — which slashed office hours, eliminated overtime, and removed mail processing equipment — were made illegally, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said Tuesday. Shapiro said they were illegal because DeJoy changed operations without first seeking approval from the Postal Regulatory Commission.
“We’re taking action to force postal officials to reinstate Postal Service standards that all Americans depend on for everything from delivering your prescription drugs and their unemployment checks to carrying out their very right to vote,” Shapiro said during a news conference.
Most mail delays and disruptions in the Philadelphia region — including neighborhoods going weeks without mail — have been the result of existing staffing shortages and policies DeJoy has already implemented. It was unclear Tuesday whether DeJoy will reverse those policy changes, too, or only suspend future ones.
Shapiro was unmoved by DeJoy’s sudden and apparent retreat. “A tweet or a statement or a press release is one thing,” he said. “We need to see binding action to reverse these changes.”
DeJoy, a Republican donor and Trump supporter appointed by the president in May, is scheduled to testify before a Senate committee on Friday. The hearing, which comes after Democrats called for an investigation into DeJoy, will be the first time he answers lawmakers’ questions about changes that have shaken public trust in the Postal Service.
Shapiro said Pennsylvania’s federal lawsuit, which will name DeJoy and Robert Duncan, chairman of the USPS board of governors, will be filed in the Eastern District in the next day or so. California, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, and North Carolina will join in the suit, he said, and more states are expected to sign on.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal initially said Tuesday that his state would also file a lawsuit in the next few days. Hours later, following DeJoy’s statement, his office said it had not yet decided whether to go forward. Delaware Attorney General Kathy Jennings said her state would join the Pennsylvania lawsuit. She said the policy changes violate Title 39, the 1970s law outlining the Postal Service’s role, which requires it to submit any planned changes that will affect service on a substantially nationwide basis to the Postal Regulatory Commission for review and a hearing.
“The actions of this administration impede Pennsylvanians’ ability to conduct our own free and fair elections,” Shapiro said. Trump’s “recklessness and his unlawful behavior has a specific goal, and that’s to make Pennsylvanians feel powerless in this process.”
Washington state is filing a separate suit, joined by Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. New York state is planning a separate action.
Trump said last week that he was opposing new funding sought by Democrats for the post office because “they need that money in order to make the post office work so it can take all of these millions and millions of ballots.”
“But if they don’t get [it], that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting because they’re not equipped to have it,” Trump said in a Fox Business Network interview.
From Trump’s comments, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) said at a separate news conference Tuesday, “We can only draw from that conclusion that [Trump] hired someone to implement his plan to cheat in the election. And I know that some will be offended when I say that, but that’s what I believe, that’s what the president indicated.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the House back to Washington this week, and lawmakers are expected to vote Saturday on legislation to provide emergency funding for the Postal Service and prevent any policy changes until Jan. 1, 2021, or the end of the coronavirus pandemic.
DeJoy has defended the new policies as cost-cutting measures that improve efficiency for an agency facing billions of dollars in debt. Philadelphia union leaders and mail carriers say the measures are exacerbating already short-staffed postal offices and that employees are being told to leave mail behind, causing extensive delivery delays across the country.
Some Philadelphians have reported going upward of three weeks without mail, leaving them without medication, bills, and other essential goods. Shapiro said his office has heard complaints from residents across the state, including in rural areas.
The legal action Tuesday came less than a week after the Pennsylvania Department of State, which oversees elections, painted a dire picture for mail voting in a state Supreme Court filing.
A recent letter from the Postal Service warning that mail ballots might not be delivered on time “makes the threat to Pennsylvanians’ right to vote unmistakably clear and concrete,” the filing said. “To state it simply: Voters who apply for mail-in ballots in the last week of the application period and return their completed ballot by mail will, through no fault of their own, likely be disenfranchised.”
The department is asking the court to order that ballots be counted as long as they are received within three days of Election Day and there is no proof (such as a postmark) that they were mailed after Election Day.