US Stamps

Fight over controversial customized stamp design continues

Dec 16, 2021, 2 PM
Massachusetts artist Anatol Zukerman created this controversial design for a Zazzle customized postage stamp that was never printed. The design attacks the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

Washington Postal Scene by Bill McAllister

The United States Postal Service may have killed customized postage stamps in June 2020, but a Massachusetts artist is still fighting for his customized stamp with an admittedly political design.

Anatol Zukerman has been in the federal courts in Washington, D.C., since 2015 seeking a judge who will order postal officials to print his stamp attacking a 2010 Supreme Court ruling.

The artist seemed to make some recent headway with U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper.

He is the judge who 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 Nov. 15, 2021, that the USPS had violated Zukerman’s First Amendment rights by rejecting his stamp design because of “its political content.”

Cooper, whose previous ruling seemed to favor the USPS, turned against the federal agency in his latest ruling.

He declared the agency had been allowing others to create and use political designs on their customized stamps.

The judge said the Postal Service’s action against Zukerman constituted “impermissible viewpoint discrimination.”

However, Cooper stopped short of coming up with a remedy for the violation.

He had urged the Postal Service and Zukerman to resolve the dispute, noting that the agency had shut down the customized stamp program.

So printing the stamp seemed out, he said.

Cooper offered what he called “a host of reasons” for why he did not order the printing Zukerman wanted.

The judge suggested an injunction that would have forced the USPS to post a link to his ruling on its website or award the artist “nominal damages.”

For Zukerman, whose stamp design attacks the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, this was unacceptable.

“The latest was the declaratory order by Judge Cooper, no stamp printing, nothing but the empty declaration,” Zukerman told Linn’s in an email.

“So we appealed again,” he said.

“Our lawyers just filed the papers, so the litigation will probably continue for another year,” Zukerman said.

“For his part, Mr. Zukerman has chosen to stick to his guns, insisting that the only proper remedy is to order USPS to print his stamp design on valid U.S. postage,” Cooper said in his Nov. 15 ruling.

Cooper said the Plymouth, Mass., artist’s argument is off base.

Zukerman’s latest move, the judge said, is “at odds with his prior recognition that ‘Courts must often fashion bespoke solutions to cure First Amendment harms’ and that ‘there are many other reasonable remedies’ available in this case.”

The case revolves around a stamp design that Zukerman wanted Zazzle Inc., a California company, to print 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 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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