Court rebukes IRS for tea party targeting,
orders release of secret list
By Stephen Dinan – The Washington Times – Tuesday, March 22, 2016
A federal appeals court spanked the IRS Tuesday, saying it has taken laws designed to protect taxpayers from the government and turned them on their head, using them to try to protect the tax agency from the very tea party groups it targeted.
The judges ordered the IRS to quickly turn over the full list of groups it targeted so that a class-action lawsuit, filed by the NorCal Tea Party Patriots, can proceed. The judges also accused the Justice Department lawyers, who are representing the IRS in the case, of acting in bad faith — compounding the initial targeting — by fighting the disclosure.
“The lawyers in the Department of Justice have a long and storied tradition of defending the nation’s interests and enforcing its laws — all of them, not just selective ones — in a manner worthy of the Department’s name. The conduct of the IRS’s attorneys in the district court falls outside that tradition,” Judge Raymond Kethledge wrote in a unanimous opinion for a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. “We expect that the IRS will do better going forward.”
Justice Department officials declined to comment on the judicial drubbing, and the IRS didn’t respond to a request for comment on the unusually strong language Judge Kethledge used.
The case stems from the IRS‘ decision in 2010 to begin subjecting tea party and conservative groups to intrusive scrutiny when they applied for nonprofit status.
An inspector general found several hundred groups were asked inappropriate questions about their members’ activities, their fundraising and their political leanings.
The IRS has since apologized for its behavior, but insisted the targeting was a mistake born of overzealous employees confused by the law rather than a politically motivated attempt to stifle conservatives.
Tea party groups have been trying for years to get a full list of nonprofit groups that were targeted by the IRS, but the IRS had refused, saying that even the names of those who applied or were approved are considered secret taxpayer information. The IRS said section 6103 of the tax code prevented it from releasing that information.
Judge Kethledge, however, said that turned the law on its head.
“Section 6103 was enacted to protect taxpayers from the IRS, not the IRS from taxpayers,” he wrote.
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