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Backlash at IRS for Tea Party Case Stonewalling

CINCINNATI (CN) - The Sixth Circuit slammed the IRS for continuing to resist, after nearly a year, an order compelling it to release lists that Tea Party groups say singled them out for harsh scrutiny.

A California political group called NorCal Tea Party Patriots brought the challenge at issue in 2013, accusing the IRS of illegally scrutinizing applications for tax exemption if a group's name contains tell-tale Tea Party insignia, including phrases such as "We the People" or "Take Back the Country."

Class-action plaintiffs sought the production of so-called "Be on the Lookout" lists that the IRS used to track identified tax-exempt applicants.

The targets of such attention allegedly faced year-long delays in the processing of applications, tight deadlines for responses, and requests for large amounts of unneeded documents. For the NorCal Tea Party Patriots, this resulted in the sending over of 3,000 pages of documents to the IRS.

After a federal judge cracked the whip on the IRS last year, the agency petitioned for the extraordinary relief of a writ of mandamus.

The Sixth Circuit minced few words in denying the petition Tuesday.

The 17-page decision demands that the IRS immediately release the requested documents.

Despite these previous orders to release the relevant documents, the IRS continually shrugged off the court order and filed its own petition claiming that the documents were confidential.

The IRS claimed in its petition that under statute 6103 of Title 26 that such information was confidential, because it fell under tax-return classifications.

Disagreeing with that characterization, the three-judge appellate panel said applications that were accepted or rejected are not considered "tax-return" information, and are not afforded such confidentiality.

"Section 6103 was enacted to protect taxpayers from the IRS, not the IRS from taxpayers," Judge Damon Kethledge wrote for the panel.

Using the office's own language against its, Kethledge said IRS forms explicitly warn that, "if we approve your application for exemption, we will be required by law to make the application and the information that you submit in response to this letter available for public inspection."

Without specifying a specific time frame, the decision does demand the documents be released "without redactions, and without further delay."

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