Judges on a federal appeals court allowed a lawsuit against the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to continue, ruling the agency failed to prove it is no longer discriminating against organizations seeking tax-exempt status.
Beginning in 2010, employees of IRS’ Exempt Organizations division, under the supervision of division Director Lois Lerner, singled out organizations for special examination, based on a group’s name or policy positions. IRS agents intended to slow or prevent conservative organizations from receive tax-exempt donations.
In August, a panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with the plaintiffs, allowing the case to continue because the government did not prove the targeting program has ended.
‘Intent to Discriminate’
Walter Olson, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies, says the panel of judges believe IRS may be open to restarting the targeting in the future.
“The court found that the evidence of deliberate intent to discriminate was overwhelming, especially given the explicitly ideological screening,” Olson said. “In the court’s view, the IRS is continuing to inflict harm on some groups that it originally singled out on discriminatory means.”
Olson says the government uses its power to discourage people from speaking out.
“If speaking up for your opinions means facing litigation, many people will just fall silent,” Olson said. “Many groups have fallen by the wayside long before they could be around to see this victory.”
Future Legal Action
Olson says the lawsuit is not over, but merely continued.
“It now goes back for legal proceedings on whether or not the court should issue an injunction against future misconduct and require accountability against backsliding,” Olson said. “As with any court proceedings, these might develop new evidence the public has not yet had a chance to hear.”
Robert Rodrigo, legal director for the Tax Revolution Institute, a nonpartisan organization promoting transparency and accountability in the U.S. tax system, says the targeting program is an example of government corruption.
“This type of blatantly targeted corruption is unprecedented,” Rodrigo said. “It is clear that the IRS had an agenda to stifle free speech, and then hide the fact that they did that.”
Rodrigo says IRS should be held to a higher standard than the one currently employed.
“What is interesting always to me is that these government officials take an oath to follow the Constitution in their duties,” Rodrigo said. “They enforce the laws of the land. When they are caught doing otherwise, the punishment should be as severe as it would be for you and I, if we break the law.”