Today is traditionally known as Tax Day. (It was moved to Monday, April 18 this year to accommodate a federal holiday.)
As millions of Americans work to beat the deadline to file tax returns, it’s important to note that numerous legal challenges to hold a corrupt IRS accountable for targeting conservative and Tea Party groups continue.
We were in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Thursday presenting arguments on behalf of 38 organizations which were unlawfully and unconstitutionally singled out by the IRS because of their political beliefs.
In arguments before the panel, the court was very critical of the IRS and its claim that it has instituted changes as a result of the targeting scheme. In fact, the court openly questioned whether the agency has made any significant changes to alter its unlawful behavior.
“It’s hard to find the IRS to be an agency we can trust,” said Judge David B. Sentelle.
A stunning conclusion – one that no doubt got the attention of IRS attorneys and even former top IRS official Lois Lerner who is at the heart of the scandal and who was actually in the courtroom for the hearing.
The court also chastised the IRS for lengthy delays in considering applications – including from two of our clients still waiting for an IRS response after six years. The IRS had no explanation as to why some organizations are still waiting if sufficient corrective action, as the IRS asserted, has been taken.
This from the Washington Times: “The lawyer for the IRS at one point acknowledged there were still ‘potential problems’ with the way the agency monitors cases going forward, but insisted the initial targeting at the point groups apply for nonprofit status has ended.”
A decision by the appeals court is expected in the weeks ahead.
Just last month, another federal appeals court struck a significant blow against the IRS and ruled that the agency, along with the Department of Justice, has been dragging its feet in providing key information requested in another lawsuit against the agency about the unlawful targeting scheme.
In March, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit rejected an appeal by the Obama Administration and highlighted a very frank and telling conclusion by the trial judge:
“My impression is the government probably did something wrong in this case. Whether there’s liability or not is a legal question. However, I feel like the government is doing everything it possibly can to make this as complicated as it possibly can, to last as long as it possibly can, so that by the time there is a result, nobody is going to care except the plaintiffs. . . . I question whether or not the Department of Justice is doing justice.”
From the very beginning, when the IRS targeting scandal broke nearly three years ago, one of the most egregious actions of the IRS was the demand that conservative organizations that had applied for tax-exempt status provide answers to sensitive, private questions – a targeting tactic that clearly violated the First Amendment rights of those groups.
The IRS had no business seeking private, personal information as highlighted by one news report: “. . . . the names of all financial contributors; lists of family members, details of their political affiliations and speculation about their plans to run for office; and details of organization members’ outside jobs. Groups were even told that they must detail members’ private communications with their local legislators or any contact with reporters. . . .”
When the IRS unlawfully demanded such information, we advised our clients not to comply. However, some groups did provide sensitive information.
Now we learn that the Obama administration is considering releasing this sensitive information it unlawfully obtained – information that it should not have in its possession in the first place.
In a written legal response, the Justice Department clearly indicated that this sensitive information – which should remain private – may be made public:
“The IRS expressly advised plaintiff that, if the application were approved, the IRS ‘will be required by law to make’ the ‘information that you submit in response to this letter available for public inspection,” administration attorneys said. “Plaintiff still submitted the information to the IRS to support its application, knowing that if it were granted, the information would be subject to public inspection.”
Unbelievable. The Obama administration is actually blaming (and threatening to punish with public discloser) the victims of this targeting scheme for the administration’s own unlawful action.
The brazen arrogance of the IRS and Obama administration continues unabated.
This Tax Day, we renew our pledge to hold the IRS accountable for an unlawful and unconstitutional targeting scheme that discriminated against conservative Americans.
Justice must be served.
Jay Sekulow is Chief Counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), which focuses on constitutional law. He also serves as a member of President Trump’s legal team. Follow him on Twitter @JaySekulow.