D.C. appeals court declares restrictions on USPS customized stamp program unconstitutional
By Linn’s Staff
On April 14, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that restrictions placed on the U.S. Postal Service’s now-defunct customized postage stamp program were unconstitutional.
The case revolves around a lengthy court fight by Massachusetts artist Anatol Zukerman, who was prevented from producing a customized stamp that attacked the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Since 2015, Zukerman had been seeking a judge in the federal courts in Washington, D.C., who would order postal officials to print his stamp attacking the 2010 Supreme Court ruling.
The Postal Service ultimately ended its customized stamp program in June 2020.
U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper had ruled in 2019 that the USPS had the right to say what could be depicted on the computer-generated postage stamps designs it allowed in its now-closed customized postage program.
But after the case was returned to Cooper by an appeals court, the judge ruled in November 2021 that the USPS had violated Zukerman’s First Amendment rights by rejecting his stamp design because of “its political content.”
Cooper said the Postal Service’s action against Zukerman constituted “impermissible viewpoint discrimination.”
In its April 14 ruling, the Court of Appeals said: “The main point here is that Zukerman does not seek prospective relief against any alleged future rights violations.”
“Indeed, Zukerman’s injury does not depend on any future conduct at all. It does not depend on any future discrimination by the Postal Service; after all, the customized postage program has already been shuttered.”
However, the appeals court did acknowledge viewpoint discrimination against Zuckerman, stating that “it does not matter that some of the other customers who benefitted from USPS’s viewpoint discrimination may never use their stamps.”
“What matters is that they were allowed to secure stamps with political messages, to use, sell, or hold as they saw fit, while Zukerman was discriminatorily denied this opportunity,” the appeals court said.
In essence, because the customized stamp program no longer exists, there are no damages to collect and no rights violations.
Zukerman wanted Zazzle Inc., a California company, to print his stamp under its contract to produce customized postage stamps for the USPS.
Zazzle refused, saying his design of an Uncle Sam figure struggling with a snake in the shape of a U.S. dollar sign was banned as political under USPS rules.
An example of the stamp design is shown here. “Democracy is Not for Sale” is printed up the left side of the design.
Zukerman and Charles Krause Reporting LLC, which owns a Washington, D.C., gallery that displays political art, sued the USPS in 2015.
The 2010 Supreme Court ruling that they opposed removed restrictions on political giving by corporations and unions.
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