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P, Postal Power.

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall, James W. Ely Jr., Joel B. Grossman

From: The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (2nd Edition)

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall

From: Oxford Constitutions (http://oxcon.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2015. All Rights Reserved. Subscriber: null; date: 23 November 2020

Postal Power.

In Article I, section 8, of the Constitution, Congress is given the power “to establish Post Offices and post Roads.” The postal power has been construed as an explicit authority to designate mail routes and post offices and as an implied authority to carry the mail and to regulate its prompt and secure delivery. Postal statutes and regulations protect the public welfare by declaring certain items to be nonmailable: obscene material, fraudulent mail, and material that pose a danger to personnel and equipment.

Applicable constitutional limitations are exemplified by the *First Amendment. Beginning with the 1873 Comstock Act, federal statutes have prohibited the knowing use of the mails to deliver obscene material, and the Supreme Court has consistently upheld such restrictions, most recently in United States v. Reidel (1971). In Lamont v. Postmaster General (1965), however, the Court invalidated restrictions on foreign mailings of “communist political propaganda.” The Court has also held that state regulations that directly and immediately burden the postal function are invalid.

During the early years of the republic, building postal roads presented a common congressional pork-barrel opportunity. Until 1970, the U.S. Post Office was an executive-branch department and the postmaster general a member of the president’s cabinet. The accumulation of political inefficiencies and economic losses led to the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, which created the U.S. Postal Service as a public corporation removed from the cabinet, diminishing the control of appointments by the political branches and guaranteeing significant autonomy. In the Private (p. 766) Express Statutes, Congress grants the U.S. Postal Service a monopoly for the delivery of letter mail, but those statutes and the applicable regulations permit private express delivery services to compete and do business.

Thomas E. Baker