Attorneys for the federal government said Thursday during an evidentiary hearing in a suit brought by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro that the postmaster general did not order sweeping operational changes to purposefully slow mail service this summer.
However, attorneys from Shapiro’s office argued that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy implemented changes that affected mail delivery and which could impact the upcoming election that is expected to see record mail-in balloting levels.
Shapiro filed for an injunction to stop Postal Service changes after he said DeJoy promised to halt ongoing changes, but failed to do so.
Deputy Attorney General Aimee Thomson told U.S. District Court Judge Gerald McHugh in Philadelphia that postal facilities across the country, from Washington state to Pennsylvania, began making changes that flowed down the chain of command.
Thomson said emails, DeJoy’s public statements, reports from postal workers and even a PowerPoint presentation proved that the operational changes included banning extra trips that might incur overtime “even if that meant bringing mail back to the post office.”
She also noted complaints from customers in central Pennsylvania and south New Jersey about service being affected “with no warning or communication” from the Postal Service.
But, government attorney Kuntal Cholera said the Postal Service “will be following the exact same policies and the exact same protocols it has for years” and is providing resources so that mail service is not delayed.
Cholera said that the on-time rate for first-class mail was about 90 percent in July and that it dipped to 81 percent in August, but rebounded to nearly 89 percent by early September. That he said, compared to rates of 93 percent in March and 89 percent in April during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have seen fluctuations like that even beforehand,” he said.
The difference in on-time rates is “negligible” between now and July, Cholera said, saying the changes reflected a “prototypical managerial decision” that did not have to go before the Postal Regulatory Commission.
Shapiro has said DeJoy failed to submit his changes to the commission as is required under the law.
Chief Deputy Attorney General Mike Fischer said the changes ordered by DeJoy could indirectly interfere with Pennsylvania’s election because of the number of mail-in ballots expected to be generated by the presidential race.
“We suggest that there’s some direction coming from the top,” Fischer said, pointing to President Donald Trump’s criticism of mail-in voting and comments from other administration officials.
McHugh did not immediately issue a ruling before adjourning the hearing after 2½ hours.