Artist Wins Legal Battle With Post Office Over Custom Postage Stamp

Federal judge cites violation of First Amendment by USPS in deciding not to print custom postage for customer that contained a political message

Citizens United protesters outside U.S. Supreme Court
Crowds outside the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 protest its landmark decision in the Citizens United case, which removed limitations on corporate donations to political figures. Zuckerman would later issue his own protest by creating a custom postage stamp with controversial political imagery in response to the ruling.  Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

A Massachusetts artist who sued the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) back in 2015 over a custom stamp he designed has won the battle but lost the war.

According to Rich Harbert of the Old Colony Memorial, a federal judge ruled in September that the post office had discriminated against Anatol Zukerman when it denied his request to print a stamp with a political statement through its custom-postage program.

In a 30-page opinion, Cooper declares, “Zukerman is thus entitled to summary judgment on his claim that USPS is liable for viewpoint discrimination in violation of the First Amendment.” He adds, “Zukerman asks that the court order USPS to print the Citizens United stamp, but the court declines this request” since the custom-postage program is no longer offered.

Earlier this year, USPS sought to discontinue the program provided through Zazzle, an independent contractor, as well as its partnerships with other custom stationary retailers citing “falling demand and legal challenges,” Cooper says in the opinion. With the service no longer in existence, the Plymouth, Massachusetts, resident has no remedy for his legal victory.

Zukerman is an artist who often depicts political messages about the democratic process, according to the Old Colony Memorial. Born in the Ukraine, the retired architect fled the Soviet Union in the 1970s and settled in the United States.

In the lawsuit, the artist claims he is “a man who has seen the extremes, lived on both sides of the divide during the Cold War and concluded that there must be a better, more humane way for societies to function.”

Zukerman’s case against the post office began in 2015 when he and co-plaintiff Charles Krause Reporting LLC wanted to have a painting turned into a custom stamp. They submitted an order for 20 stamps at a cost of $40 to Zazzle.

The request was denied because Zukerman’s artwork was deemed to be political in nature. The painting features the words “Democracy is Not for Sale” and shows Uncle Sam being strangled by a snake bearing the name of Citizens United—a reference to the Supreme Court ruling that revoked limits on political donations from corporations.

Zukerman and Krause, who owns an art gallery in Washington, D.C. that specializes in political art, sued USPS, claiming their First Amendment rights to free speech were violated. They cited in their suit that other political messages had been previously allowed, including stamps supporting the 2016 presidential campaigns of Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders and Jeb Bush, as well as those promoting Christianity and atheism.

In the court decision, Cooper acknowledges that the ruling left Zukerman and Krause without “remedy.” The judge allowed both parties to work together toward finding an amicable solution or the court could “award declaratory relief and nominal damages.”

Zukerman was pleased with the ruling but disappointed that USPS had canceled the custom-postage program. As for the painting that led to the lawsuit, he has given it to Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel & Frederick, the Washington, D.C., law firm that handled the pro bono case.

“I donated it to our lawyers, who spent $2 million in six years on this,” he tells the Old Colony Memorial. “That’s the least I could do.”

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