Federal appeals court strikes down US Postal Service rule prohibiting political content on custom stamps

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled Tuesday that the US Postal Service (USPS) 2018 rule that disallowed political content on custom stamps is unconstitutional.

Since 2005, USPS has offered customers the opportunity to create their own customized stamps. In 2015 USPS established content requirements that were established and maintained through Zazzle, a third-party vendor. USPS required Zazzle to reject any “[p]artisan or political” content, “regardless of the viewpoint expressed.” Zazzle further prohibited politicians’ names, political statements or any content that it deemed controversial.

In 2018 USPS established a new rule that proposed content had to be a commercial or social image, suitable for all ages, for the content to be eligible. Political content was deemed unsuitable for all ages, and it was found not to be eligible.

Appellant filed a complaint against USPS in 2015, alleging that USPS had rejected his custom postage design because it was incompatible with USPS’s ban on political designs. Appellants contended that USPS’s custom postage program violated the prohibition against viewpoint discrimination under the First Amendment. In 2018 appellant filed a supplemental complaint.

A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia granted the government’s motion to dismiss the complaints. On the first claim, the district judge found the viewpoint discrimination claim to be moot. The appeals court on Tuesday remanded that claim to the district court.

The appeals court then reversed the district court’s dismissal of appellant’s challenge to the 2018 rule. The court found that the rule’s blanket ban on “political” content fails the Supreme Court’s “objective, workable standards” test, as articulated in Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky.

The court found that the regulation “tasks government decision-makers with deciding what can come in and what must stay out.” The term “political” did not provide “objective, workable standards.” Without those standards, USPS content reviewers’ own political viewpoints could shape what they considered to be political.

Because of this, the court found that the 2018 rule was unconstitutional.