The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, based in Cincinnati, has sternly ordered the IRS to hand over documentation of which organizations they had allegedly targeted.
The ruling was the latest twist in a long-gestating class-action lawsuit filed by the NorCal Tea Party Patriots, a group that claims that they have been unfairly scrutinized by the IRS because of their political leanings, Fox News reported.
The lawsuit began in 2013 after an investigation conducted by a Treasury inspector general revealed that the tax-collecting agency had shown a negative bias against conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status.
The NorCal Tea Party Patriots’ civil suit contained a complaint that the IRS had denied them access to the names of groups that had been targeted and made excuses using bureaucratic stonewalling.
The three-judge panel came to a unanimous decision that IRS officials were unacceptably dragging their feet in producing the names.
“The lawyers in the Department of Justice have a long and storied tradition of defending the nation’s interests and enforcing its laws,” the panel’s written opinion stated. "The conduct of the IRS’s attorneys in the district court falls outside that tradition."
“The lawsuit has progressed as slowly as the underlying applications themselves: at every turn the IRS has resisted the plaintiffs' requests for information regarding the IRS’s treatment of the plaintiff class, eventually to the open frustration of the district court,” the opinion continued.
IRS officials have warned that disclosing these names would violate the privacy of the parties involved. The tax-collecting agency invoked the “writ of mandamus” to block lower court requests that they reveal the documents, essentially asking them to stand down.
“The district court ordered production of those lists,” wrote Judge Raymond Kethledge. “Instead the IRS now seeks from this court a writ of mandamus, an extraordinary remedy reserved to correct only the clearest abuses of power by a district court. We deny the petition.”
The panel’s ruling gives the IRS two weeks to produce the requested documents.
“We expect that the IRS will do better going forward,” Kethledge added, according to Cleveland.com.
“We are very pleased that the 6th Circuit had smacked down the IRS and its thuggish DOJ lawyers,” said Mark Meckler, president of the organization that bankrolled the class action suit, Citizens for Self-Governance, reported Fox News.
On March 24, IRS Commissioner John Koskinen responded to the ruling by warning that the court decision had broader privacy implications than just the names of allegedly targeted groups, Politico reported.
“If suddenly your name on an application and your address is available to the public, I think it’s going to raise concern by a lot of taxpayers who may not want anyone else to know what they’re applying for,” Koskinen said.