At the hearing on Thursday, Chief Judge Stanley Bastian of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Washington urged the Trump administration and the Democratic state attorneys general who brought the case to move quickly. He also signaled to the Postal Service not to drag out litigation with procedural fights that could disenfranchise voters.
“We don’t have much time between now and this election,” Bastian said. “I think everyone on this call wants their vote to be counted.”
“Everybody in this country is relying on the Postal Service to do their job,” Bastian added. “I hope at some point we’ll be hearing from the Postal Service not a bunch of procedural or jurisdictional arguments, but some assurance to the American public that the Postal Service is up to the challenge to deliver ballots to the voters and back to the states so they can be counted.”
The coalition of 14 states has asked the Postal Service to share how it is enforcing Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s recent pledge that disruptive policy changes will be put on hold until after the election. The states are also asking the Postal Service for details on how it will treat ballots nationwide — as either marketing mail or mail with a higher priority.
The lawsuit is still in its early stages, but the Postal Service’s evidence and responses will be due to the states by September 6.
The attorney for the Trump administration, Joseph Borson, argued that the administration plans to fight the states’ ability to bring the lawsuit, and he reminded the judge that DeJoy had testified and plans to give Congress an update by Monday.
Thursday’s hearing was the first after several groups, individuals and states sued the Postal Service, its leadership and the Trump administration following news of the slowdown and President Donald Trump’s statements casting doubt on voting by mail. Thus, it was the first time a federal judge has weighed in on one of the most politically charged disputes related to 2020 voting.
The 14 states — all with Democratic attorneys general — sued the Trump administration and the Postal Service earlier this month for allegedly making improper changes to mail service that will disrupt mail-in voting. They say recent testimony to Congress from DeJoy didn’t clarify what the Postal Service is now doing.
“This problem, the lack of information, is of the defendant’s own making,” said Kristin Beneski, an attorney for the state of Washington. “The facts are shifting under our feet on a daily basis. … There’s been little clarity by the Postal Service itself.”
Beneski pointed to reports that the Postal Service may still be sending out its trucks on strict schedules, rather than allowing them to hold even five minutes to transport mail that is coming in late in the day. “Is this a fully top-down national policy or do local managers have some discretion?” Beneski asked.
Regarding the prioritization of election mail, Beneski said DeJoy’s comments that all ballots would be treated as priority was in contrast to what he told state leaders in recent letters. In those letters, DeJoy said ballots could be considered marketing mail, meaning they’d take longer to be delivered to voters and then back to election officials.