Last week, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. Postal Service failed to “meet its burden” under the Freedom of Information Act to justify its near-complete redaction of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s calendar records. The decision is the most recent update in American Oversight’s lawsuit against USPS for DeJoy’s calendars from the first months of his tenure.
American Oversight sued to compel the release of the calendars after USPS claimed the records were personal and not subject to FOIA, despite their logging of government business. When USPS finally produced 149 pages of DeJoy’s calendar in December 2020, the entries were nearly all redacted, with USPS claiming that the concealed information was protected under FOIA and Postal Reorganization Act exemptions related to privileged agency communications, personal privacy, and commercial information — a broad application of narrow exemptions that threatened to vastly expand what the agency could hold back in the future.
On Sept. 23, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras denied the agency’s partial motion for summary judgment. For the bulk of the redactions, USPS had claimed that content was withheld under FOIA and Postal Reorganization Act exemptions covering agency communications of a deliberative nature and commercial information. Importantly, the court rejected USPS’s overly broad interpretation of the commercial information exemption, which ran contrary to even the agency’s own regulations and, as the court said, would undermine the purpose of FOIA.
The court also found that USPS did not provide enough information to justify its claims of deliberative process and attorney-client privilege. The court was unconvinced with the agency’s categorical approach to explaining the exemptions and ordered USPS to submit a Vaughn index justifying each of its redactions.
USPS also redacted the identities of successful job candidates who interviewed with DeJoy, claiming their release constituted an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy that was of no interest to the public. FOIA generally does not recognize a privacy interest in aspects of federal employees’ job applications, and the court agreed that the records’ release is in the public interest in light of reports that DeJoy hired individuals from his former company.
The court’s order also called for USPS to submit DeJoy’s calendar records for in camera review, which will require the agency to present the judge with an unredacted version of the complete document. USPS has 30 days to respond with unredacted documents, a renewed motion for summary judgment, and a complete Vaughn index to properly explain each redaction.
DeJoy was appointed by then-President Donald Trump in June 2020, when Trump had already spent months politicizing the Postal Service and advancing baseless claims that mail-in voting would lead to widespread voter fraud. Records obtained by American Oversight last year showed turmoil at the agency as the Covid-19 pandemic hit and revealed an abandoned plan to mail masks to all U.S. households.
DeJoy is the first non-career postal employee in nearly two decades to fill the role of postmaster general. He left his position as deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Convention to join USPS, and the calendars cover months in which DeJoy oversaw a number of controversial decisions. Between June and November 2020, USPS experienced significant mail delays at a time when people were increasingly relying on deliveries and when the U.S. was gearing up for a large increase in election mail.
Last year, American Oversight obtained records showing that four of DeJoy’s close staffers came from his private businesses. In August, the Washington Post reported that the agency had awarded a $120 million contract to XPO Logistic, DeJoy’s former company, to which he still has financial ties. Currently, the FBI is investigating DeJoy in connection to campaign fundraising activity.
Following last week’s court order, USPS must respond to the decision and produce the Vaughn index and an unredacted version of DeJoy’s calendar for judicial review by Oct. 25.
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