I got into a discussion on Facebook the other day with a reader who had repeated one of the most popular myths involving the US Postal Service- the idea that the USPS is established in the Constitution, and could only be dismantled (or sold off) by a constitutional amendment. It’s a comforting thought- unfortunately, there’s nothing in the Constitution that says so.
The postal service is one of the very few government agencies specifically mentioned (and authorized) in the document- that much is true- and that fact has given a great deal of agita over the years to free marketeers and tea party types. But if you actually read the specific article in question, you won’t find anything that establishes a postal service, or that requires Congress to establish one.
Here’s what the Constitution actually says in Article 1, Section 8
The Congress shall have Power To establish Post Offices and post Roads
That’s it! You don’t need to be a constitutional scholar, or even a lawyer to interpret that sentence- it’s very clear. Congress is not required to establish post offices. It merely has the power to do so if it chooses to. And it chose to do so in 1792 when it passed the “Postal Service Act”. That Act of Congress established the Post Office Department. All it takes to repeal an Act of Congress is another Act of Congress- not a constitutional amendment.
The same article of the Constitution also mentions the “Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards and other needful Buildings”. Under my friend’s creative interpretation of the Constitution, therefore, an amendment would be required any time the government decides to deactivate a military installation.
But wait! There’s more!
Take another look at that clause- it doesn’t say anything about a “US Postal Service”, or even a “Post Office Department”. It says “Post Offices”. So does that mean a Constitutional amendment is needed every time a “Post Office” is discontinued? Of course not.
The fact that the Constitution specifically mentions “Post Offices” does say a great deal about the importance the Founding Fathers attributed to the mail. It does not, however, guarantee the existence of the US Postal Service as it currently exists. That should be obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention: Congress made major changes to the service in 1970 and 2006, and it will surely do so again. Congress, not the Constitution, created the US Postal Service, and Congress can change or eliminate it. That’s not fear mongering- it’s reality. The current GOP run Congress, despite its right wing corporate agenda, has no immediate plan to eliminate or privatize the USPS, but it could do so. Clinging to a fictional constitutional protection is about as realistic as Linus clutching his security blanket- it may be comforting, but it won’t really protect you, or your job.