PHILADELPHIA (CN) — Blocking Postmaster General Louis DeJoy from moving forward with operational changes that have caused mail delays ahead of the November election, a federal judge in Pennsylvania became the latest Monday to issue a nationwide injunction against the controversial policy shifts.
U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh, a Barack Obama appointee, wrote in an 87-page opinion Monday that Congress requires the U.S. Postal Service to seek an advisory opinion from the Postal Regulatory Commission before it makes any “significant, nationwide changes” in its operations. The judge found that the agency skipped this step in July when it began pushing to cut workers’ overtime, freeze executive hiring and ban extra mail deliveries.
DeJoy, a Republican donor and former business executive appointed to head the Postal Service in June, said last month that the operational changes will be put off until after the presidential election.
But Democrat-led states argued in court last week that the postmaster general’s position could shift again without an injunction preventing the changes. Pennsylvania is the lead plaintiff in the federal lawsuit filed against DeJoy and Robert Duncan, chairman of the Postal Service’s board of governors, and is joined by five other states and the District of Columbia.
McHugh agreed with the blue states in his ruling Monday.
“The Postal Service is a critical agency that preceded the birth of the nation itself, one of a few agencies that the Constitution explicitly authorized. Congress has described it as ‘a basic and fundamental service provided to the people by the government of the United States,’” the judge wrote. “Its ability to fulfill its mission during a presidential election taking place in the midst of a public health crisis is vital.”
The judge said the injunction will prevent any further disruption of mail service “and preserve the status quo that existed before the policies were implemented.” He said the nationwide nature of the mail meant that an injunction applying across the country was necessary.
“Ultimately it would be highly impractical to craft a remedy specific to the plaintiff states based on the Postal Service’s operating structure,” McHugh wrote.
Delaware, California, Maine, Massachusetts and North Carolina joined Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia as plaintiffs in the case.
At the hearing last week, Justice Department trial attorney Kuntal Cholera framed the Postal Service’s harsh crackdown on overtime and extra trips as a misunderstanding, telling McHugh that local management is to blame for decontextualizing statements from Washington.
McHugh pointed to the government’s argument as justification for his nationwide injunction.
“That the Postal Service, by its own admission, cannot account for the way communications around late and extra trips have been interpreted in the field and around the country supports the conclusion that the Postal Service’s internal operating structure would be a barrier to ensuring that anything but a nationwide injunction could be effectively implemented,” he wrote.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office did not immediately return a request for comment on the ruling. Nor did a representative from the Justice Department.
On Sunday, a federal judge in the nation’s capital also issued an injunction blocking the Postal Service from implementing the policy changes that would slow down election mail. This suit was filed by another set of Democrat-led states – New York, Hawaii and New Jersey – as well as the cities of New York and San Francisco.