A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals says the IRS has not demonstrated that it has stopped targeting conservative organizations seeking tax-exempt status, harshly criticizing the agency for its “discriminatory” policies.
The appeals court reinstated two lawsuits by conservative organizations that were thrown out by a lower court.
Several conservative groups are still waiting for a ruling on their tax-exempt application, which led the court to the obvious conclusion: the IRS is still targeting conservative groups for unwarranted scrutiny.
“This is a blistering rebuke to the IRS and its defenders,” Walter Olson, senior fellow at the Cato Institute Center for Constitutional Studies, said of the court’s ruling. “It takes on squarely the defense the IRS had raised in this case which is, ‘Whatever happened, we promise not to do it again.'”
“The court goes through and systematically takes that apart in a way that’s very damaging to the IRS’s overall defense,” he added.
The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, often considered the second most powerful court in the country, reversed two decisions made by lower courts to dismiss lawsuits against the IRS for the targeting of two conservative groups, Linchpins of Liberty and True the Vote.
In reviewing whether to support the tax agency’s claim that the targeting practices had ended, the court noted “it is absurd to suggest that the effect of the IRS’s unlawful conduct … has been eradicated” when the two conservative groups in question still had their delayed applications pending before the IRS.
The IRS had argued before lower courts in two separate lawsuits that the cases should be thrown out because officials had taken steps to end the “unequal” handling of Tea Party groups’ applications for tax-exempt status.
But the circuit court stated repeatedly in the 22-page ruling that the IRS’s actions “continue to affect” groups that still have not received a decision on their applications to become nonprofits.
The tax agency did succeed in persuading the three-judge panel that no individual IRS employees should be held legally accountable for the conduct that landed the agency before the court. IRS officials did not unlawfully disclose taxpayer information, the panel concluded.
Beyond the politically motivated delays imposed by the tax agency, the court focused on the intrusive questions asked of Tea Party applicants, such as demands that such groups provide “Internet passwords and user names, copies of social media and other Internet postings and even the political and charitable activities of family members.”
Why should IRS employees skate on being held legally accountable for the targeting effort? It doesn’t matter that no personal tax information was disclosed. Using the IRS to harass and intimidate the political opposition is a crime as well.
Also, the recent release by Judicial Watch of FBI interviews of IRS employees reveals that the targeting was the result of a directive from someone higher up:
One IRS official – whose name was redacted — saw the internal document that ordered the targeting and “his impression was that they should not be using the label ‘Tea Party,’” FBI interviews show.
The FBI also didn’t catch the IRS official who wrote that document.
If the IRS is still targeting conservatives, you can bet that the order came from Washington. Low-level bureaucrats do not make those kinds of decisions — especially after all the controversy.
That the IRS would be so arrogant as to continue the targeting is not surprising. They have stonewalled Congress for years — lost emails, wiped hard drives — while denying everything. From the director on down, this is an agency out of control and in great need of being held accountable for their illegal actions.