(Washington, D.C.) – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and its pro bono counsel, Arnold & Porter LLP, filed suit this evening in federal court for the District of Maryland on behalf of the National Urban League, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters U.S. against Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and the United States Postal Service, challenging actions intended to disrupt the 2020 election by making it more difficult for mail ballots to be delivered on time.
“Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has wreaked havoc across the country with reckless policies intended to disrupt the timely delivery of mail just weeks in advance of a general election,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Without question, DeJoy is weaponizing the United States Postal Service (USPS) to disenfranchise Americans who choose to vote by mail amid an unprecedented pandemic gripping the nation. We are filing this lawsuit to stop actions that were adopted unlawfully and that were intended to cause delays intended to disrupt the November election. DeJoy’s statement vowing to suspend changes rings hollow in the absence of remedial action taken to address the damage that his actions have caused.”
The suit alleges that DeJoy’s actions in implementing President Trump’s stated desire to undercut the delivery of mail ballots violates the constitutional right to vote because of the burden it places on voters choosing to vote by absentee ballot. The actions also violate the First Amendment, because they target voters who are intending to vote by mail and, the complaint claims, that DeJoy failed to follow the law which required him to submit his plans to the U.S. Postal Commission before implementing them, placing his actions outside the scope of his legal authority.
The lawsuit was filed along with pro bono counsel, Arnold & Porter LLP. The suit was filed on behalf of the National Urban League, Common Cause and the League of Women Voters U.S. against Postmaster General Louis DeJoy and the United States Postal Service.
“The drastic and disruptive changes to the Postal Service by the Trump administration have been an attack on every American’s right to vote and their First Amendment right to free speech – and they must be rolled back definitively with more than just a press release,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, President of Common Cause. “These efforts to undermine the effectiveness of the Postal Service under President Trump must ALL be rescinded. In the midst of a pandemic we need to know that ballot applications and ballots will be delivered in a timely manner so that every American will be able to make their voice heard on Election Day without having to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to vote.”
Less than a month after taking over as postmaster general on June 16, Louis DeJoy circulated an internal USPS memo alerting postal workers to prepare for difficult policy changes, citing an effort to reduce costs and improve efficiency. Changes that took effect July 13 included the elimination of overtime for postal workers; limits on other measures local postmasters use to ameliorate staffing shortages; limits on the number of stops individual mail trucks can make along a route; and instructions to leave mail behind to be delivered the following day rather than make multiple trips to ensure timely delivery as dictated by longstanding policy.
“As the Senate Intelligence Committee report released today reveals, the team surrounding President Trump has pushed the boundaries of voter suppression and interference in unprecedented ways,” Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League. “We are determined that the Constitutionally-established institutions of our government will not be twisted into service of the President’s reelection campaign, and we will not abandon those who depend upon the Postal Service for life-sustaining deliveries.”
The effect on delivery time was felt almost immediately — within weeks, voters and postal workers across the country were reporting noticeable delays, and election officials began instructing voters to drop their ballots off in person rather than return them by mail and risk their late arrival.
“The League supports the US Postal Service, one of our country’s oldest and most trusted agencies. Yet, even with the supposed suspension of changes to USPS’s system, the damage has already been done,” said Virginia Kase, CEO of the League of Women Voters of the United States. “The distrust has been sown. Voters are left confused and uncertain as they navigate how to vote safely during a pandemic. We must not allow the proposed changes to USPS to be implemented, for this election or any future election. We must restore voters’ faith in our mail system.”
“There is nothing more precious in the Constitution than the sacred right to vote, and the law will not and cannot stand idly by when that right is infringed for political purposes,” said Kenneth Chernof, partner at Arnold & Porter.
On August 7, Postmaster DeJoy announced a hiring freeze and a request for voluntary early retirement, effectively preventing the alleviation of existing staffing shortages resulting from the pandemic. In the week following that announcement, it came to light that USPS had begun removing mail sorting machines from postal distribution centers across the country, ultimately decommissioning 671 high-volume sorting machines—fully one-eighth of nationwide USPS capacity, together capable of sorting 21.4 million pieces of mail per hour. Internal USPS planning documents confirm that this targeted reduction in mail processing capacity included between a 20% and 40% reduction in the number of sorting machines located at facilities in the Great Lakes region, including significant reductions in Indiana. Also revealed was the removal of neighborhood mailboxes across the country which, combined with a reduction in hours at local post offices, may make it more difficult for individual voters to timely cast and place their ballots in the mail.
The lawsuit comes less than two weeks after DeJoy sacked or reassigned more than 30 members of the top leadership and managers at the USPS. The lawsuit also follows a statement issued by DeJoy earlier today promising to suspend further action.
The Arnold & Porter team included Kenneth Chernof, John Freedman, Allon Kedem, Doug Winthrop, Andrew Tutt, Daniel Jacobson, Lindsay Carson, Kaitlin Konkel, Ben Halbig, Stephen Wirth, Graham White, Leslie Bailey and Catherine McCarthy.
Read the lawsuit here.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Now in its 55th year, the Lawyers’ Committee is continuing its quest to “Move America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of voting rights, criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and hate crimes. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommitee.org.