Federal Court Puts Road Block in the Way of Justice for Conservatives Targeted by the IRS
The fight for justice is never the easy road, and it doesn’t always win the first round.
Yesterday a federal district court dismissed two lawsuits (at least a majority of the claims) brought on behalf of conservative groups who were targeted by the IRS.
Unfortunately, the court’s ruling is based on what we believe is a mistaken interpretation of the law that would allow corruption to continue unfettered at the highest levels of federal government and deny justice to those who had their constitutional rights violated.
At the ACLJ, we represent 41 conservative and pro-life groups from 22 states who were wrongfully targeted by the IRS in a lawsuit against the Obama Administration and key IRS officials. ACLJ Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow responded to the court’s decision stating: "The decision by the court is disappointing. However, it does not deter our efforts to seek justice for our clients. We are reviewing the decision and plan to appeal."
However, despite the court’s ruling, there are several key things to point out about the case. The trial court did not rule on the merits of the case. In fact, the judge specifically stated in his memorandum opinion: “The Court’s opinion should not be interpreted as an assessment of the propriety of the alleged conduct by the defendants, as resolution of the motions does not require an assessment of the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims.”
Also, while the court dismissed most of the claims, there is at least one key claim that will proceed (I’ll get to more on that in a moment).
The court’s decision to throw out the remaining counts of the lawsuit was based on three key rulings that could lead to dangerous results.
First, despite the level of wrongdoing alleged, the trial court bought into the Obama Administration’s argument in its motion to dismiss that IRS officials involved in targeting Americans for the political beliefs should receive “qualified immunity.” In other words, the court held that Lois Lerner and other top IRS officials named in our lawsuit cannot be held accountable in their individual capacity for decisions made in targeting conservatives as part of their “official” duties at the IRS. The obvious danger this leads to is that it would be almost impossible to ever hold IRS officials specifically accountable for targeting individuals and abusing the immense power of the IRS.
Second, the trial court relied on the Obama Administration’s assurances that the targeting had been stopped. It focused almost entirely on the “BOLO” list, ignoring the years-long (and in some cases still ongoing) delay in approvals and intentional demands for unconstitutionally invasive information from conservative groups. It essentially held that since the IRS stopped using the “BOLO” lists to target conservatives, eventually (after years of delay and numerous lawsuits) approved most of the groups, and promised not to do it again, there is nothing left for the court to decide. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the reality.
Of the 41 groups represented by the ACLJ, 28 organizations received their tax-exempt status after exorbitantly lengthy and arbitrary delays (in fact two of them were only approved last week). However 7 of the groups still have applications pending with the IRS. Remember, many of these groups applied back in 2010, over four years ago, and it was not until May 2013 that the IRS even admitted to targeting and holding them up. That’s years and years of intentional delay. 5 of our clients withdrew their applications after utter frustration with the IRS process, the delays, the targeting, and the intrusive questions, and 1 group had it’s file closed by the IRS after refusing to answer unconstitutionally intrusive questions. The court’s opinion further leads to the conclusion that because there is no congressionally specified length of time in which 501(c)(4) applications (which most but not all of the targeted groups were) must be ruled on by the IRS, there is no remedy for these organizations. The IRS could essentially continue sitting on their applications in perpetuity without judicial recourse.
Finally, the court ruled that the IRS’s demand for unconstitutionally impermissible donor lists and other information does not violate the law.
If the federal government can unconstitutionally target a group of citizens for their beliefs with the overwhelming power of the IRS and as long as it promises not to do it again, even through it is still harassing many of the original targets, it can get away with it, that would lead to a whole host of unmitigated abuse the likes of which we have never seen. In fact, by the court’s reasoning, the IRS could refuse to approve a group for years until it is sued and then approve the group at the last minute with no recourse to those targeted Americans. Remember, justice delayed is justice denied.
We’re examining all options to ensure that the rights of our clients are protected. We won’t give up on seeking justice for those who were wrongfully targeted by their government.
The trial court did allow our lawsuit to continue for two of our 501(c)(3) clients, Patriots Educating Concerned Americans Now and Liberty Township Tea Party, Inc., under 26 U.S.C. § 7428 seeking an immediate determination of approval of their tax-exempt status because their application was delayed passed the 270 day limit established by law for the IRS to review a 501(c)(3) application. The court gave the Obama Administration two weeks to respond.
The Obama Administration’s IRS must be held accountable. Targeted Americans must receive justice. The American people must be assured that this level of abuse can never happen again. We’ll keep fighting until we get just that.