Appeals Court Slaps Down IRS in NorCal Tea Party Case

Tea Party supporter William Temple of Brunswick, Ga., protests against President Barack Obama's health care law outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Thursday, June 28, 2012. Saving its biggest case for last, the Supreme Court is expected to announce ruling on President Barack Obama's health care law. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

The NorCal Tea Party Patriots won another round Tuesday in their long legal battle against the IRS, which had targeted hundreds of Tea Party and conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status before the 2012 elections.

A federal district court in Ohio had ordered the IRS to produce the names of organizations it placed on a “Be On the Look Out” (BOLO) list. The names are necessary for the NorCal Tea Party Patriots to proceed with their lawsuit as a class action suit on behalf of all the groups that were unfairly, and possibly illegally, targeted. The district court had twice ordered the IRS to produce the documents, but the IRS sought a “writ of mandamus” to block the court order.

A unanimous three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the IRS’s petition — and rebuked the agency for its behavior. In an opinion written by Judge Raymond Kethledge — first nominated in 2006 by President George W. Bush, but filibustered and stalled by Senate Democrats until 2008 — the Sixth Circuit rebuked the IRS for its behavior in court, charging that “in this lawsuit the IRS has only compounded the conduct that gave rise to it.”

The IRS had pressed for the writ — an “extraordinary” measure — on the argument that the names of organizations it had singled out for unusual scrutiny was confidential taxpayer return information protected by federal law. However, as the district court noted, federal law also provides that such information may be released in court if it is critical to a case. In any case, the names of organizations do not qualify as “return information,” Judge Kethledge concluded. Moreover, he found, most of the information the organizations provided to the IRS would have been subject to public scrutiny in any case, so their names ought not be considered sensitive enough to keep from the plaintiffs.

Judge Kethledge echoed the district judge, Susan J. Dlott — a Bill Clinton appointee — who said: “I question whether or not the Department of Justice is doing justice.” He ruled:

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. We expect that the IRS will do better going forward. And we order that the IRS comply with the district court’s discovery orders of April 1 and June 16, 2015—without redactions, and without further delay.

Though the IRS scandal has been lost in election-year chaos, and amidst media efforts to laud Obama’s “scandal-free” legacy, the NorCal Tea Party Patriots’ victory will remind Americans that that the truth remains to be found.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. His new e-book, Leadership Secrets of the Kings and Prophets: What the Bible’s Struggles Teach Us About Today, is on sale through Amazon Kindle Direct. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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