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Top Ten Civil Liberties Abuses of the IRS
CATO Institute ^ | April 11, 2002 | by Chris Edwards

Posted on 04/16/2002 1:44:06 PM PDT by vannrox

Top Ten Civil Liberties Abuses of the Income Tax

by Chris Edwards
Chris Edwards is director of fiscal policy studies at the Cato Institute.

Any tax system creates a threat to individual liberty because "the power to tax involves the power to destroy," as Chief Justice John Marshall observed.[1] But the federal income tax and its enforcement harm civil liberties much more than necessary to raise needed funds for the government. Certainly, the IRS performs poorly and too easily abuses the rights of citizens. But ultimately Congress is to blame for creating an excessively complex and high-rate tax system. New laws to increase taxpayer protections and replacement of the income tax with a simpler, flatter consumption-based tax could greatly reduce the following 10 areas of civil liberties abuse.

1. "Vertical" Inequality. Although equality under the law is a bedrock American principle, the income tax treats citizens unequally. "Vertical" inequality is created by hugely different tax burdens on citizens at different income levels. For example, households earning between $30,000 and $75,000 pay an average 10 percent of their income in federal income taxes, compared to 27 percent for households earning more than $200,000.[2] Fully 36 percent of U.S. households pay no income tax.[3] Besides violating the spirit of equal protection guarantees of the Constitution, such unequal burdens distort perceptions about the costs and benefits of government because programs appear to be free of cost to many.

2. "Horizontal" Inequality. Even people with similar incomes are treated unequally by the many exemptions, deductions, credits, and other intricacies of the income tax. For example, there are 59 income tax provisions that vary depending on marital status.[4] Likewise, the tax differences between homeowners and renters with the same incomes can be thousands of dollars because of itemized deductions for property taxes and mortgage interest. Another disparity is the unequal access to savings vehicles in the tax code depending on individuals' work situations and other factors. If all individual savings were exempt from tax, as under a consumption-based system, individuals would be treated more equally.

3. Complexity, Ambiguity, and Uncertainty. Certainty in the law is a bulwark against arbitrary and abusive government. But there is no certainty under the income tax because it rests on an inherently difficult-to-measure tax base, uses no consistent definition of "income" or other concepts, and is a labyrinth of narrow and limited provisions created by politicians intent on social engineering.[5] The current IRS commissioner concedes that the income tax has become too complex for accurate administration, which is evident in the 28 percent IRS error rate on phone inquiries and 60 percent error rate on audits.[6] Business tax rules are so ambiguous that many disputes drag on for years and are valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars.[7] Individuals are baffled by the complex rules on capital gains, pension and savings plans, and a growing list of targeted incentives. Those complexities would be eliminated under a flat consumption-based tax system.

4. Huge Size and Instability of Tax Law. Citizens are required to know the nation's laws and comply with them. Yet federal tax rules are massive in scope and constantly changing. Tax laws, regulations, and related documentation span 45,662 pages.[8] There were 441 changes to tax rules in last year's tax-cut law alone.[9] That law guaranteed a decade of tax instability with phased-in changes lasting until 2010. Income tax instability is typified by changes in taxes on capital. There have been 25 substantial changes in the treatment of long-term capital gains since 1922.[10] Pension tax laws have been substantially changed nearly every year since the early 1980s, creating regulatory backlogs and leaving employers unsure about how to comply.[11] Last year's tax-cut law alone had 64 separate rule changes for pension and saving plans.[12]

5. Lack of Financial Privacy. The broad-based income tax necessitates a large invasion of financial privacy that a low-rate consumption-based tax could avoid. The IRS regularly gains access to a myriad of personal records, such as mortgage records, credit card data, phone records, banking and investment records, real property transaction data, and personal correspondence. This broad IRS authority to obtain records without court supervision has been referred to by the Supreme Court as "a power of inquisition."[13]

6. Denial of Due Process. The Fifth Amendment right to due process is ignored in many respects by the federal income tax regime. Due process requires that government provide accused citizens a clear notice of a claim against them and allow the accused a hearing before executing enforcement action. But the IRS engages in many summary judgments, and enforces them prior to any judicial determinations. Moreover, the very complexity and ambiguity of the income tax seems to violate due process. In 1926, the Supreme Court noted that a statute that is "so vague that men of common intelligence must necessarily guess at its meaning and differ as to its application, violates that first essential of due process of law."[14]

7. Shifting of the Burden of Proof. For non-criminal tax cases -- the vast majority of cases -- the tax code reverses the centuries-old common law principle that the burden of proof rests with the accuser. Except in some narrow circumstances, the IRS does not have to prove the correctness of its determinations. When the IRS makes erroneous assessments, as it often does, citizens carry the burden to prove that they are wrong. Efforts to shift the burden of proof to the IRS in the 1998 IRS Restructuring and Reform Act did not accomplish that goal. In addition, the new rules do not apply to the 97 percent of IRS actions that are deemed administrative in nature.[15]

8. No Trial by Jury in Tax Court. Despite Sixth and Seventh Amendment guarantees of trial by jury, the federal tax system carefully sidesteps such protections. To contest an IRS tax calculation prior to assessment, one must file a petition in the U.S. Tax Court. But since this is an administrative court, not an Article III court, no jury trial is required. To obtain a jury trial and related rights for civil tax cases, one must file suit in a U.S. District Court. But before that can happen, the alleged tax, penalties, and interest must be paid in full. And if the citizen wins, there is a burdensome route to retrieving the disputed money. For most people, those rules effectively eliminate the right to trial by jury in tax cases.

9. Unreasonable Searches and Seizures. In most situations, the Fourth Amendment guarantees that, before the government can search private property and seize records, it must demonstrate to a court that there is "probable cause" to believe that lawless conduct exists. However, the IRS's summons authority under tax code section 7602 allows it to obtain records of every description from any person without showing probable cause and without a court order. There has also been an explosion in information reporting required by the IRS and a big expansion in its computer searching for personal records. Recently, the IRS won the power to access financial data on Visa cards issued by foreign banks. Many examples of abusive IRS searches and seizures were revealed in U.S. Senate hearings in 1997.[16]

10. Forced Self-Incrimination. The requirement to file tax returns sworn to under penalty of perjury operates to invalidate the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Citizens face a legal dilemma. On the one hand, refusing to file a return would expose a citizen to prosecution for failure to file. On the other hand, disclosing information sought in tax returns constitutes a waiver of Fifth Amendment protections. The IRS can and does release that information to federal, state, and local agencies for both tax and non-tax law enforcement purposes.


1. McCulloch v. Maryland, 17 U.S. 316 (1819).

2. IRS, Statistics of Income Bulletin, Fall 2001. Data are for 1999. Income concept is adjusted gross income.

3. Joint Committee on Taxation, JCS-1-02, January 17, 2002, Data are for 2001. 4. Daniel J. Pilla, "A Monument of Deficient Wisdom," Report no. 165, Institute for Policy Innovation, 2001, p. 15. 5. Chris Edwards, "Simplifying Federal Taxes: The Advantages of Consumption-Based Taxation," Cato Institute, October 2001.

6. Pilla, p. 4.

7. For example, in 1997 Columbia/HCA Corp. fought the IRS over a tax item worth $267 million. The IRS ended up accepting $71 million. Tax Notes, December 8, 1997, p. 1098.

8. CCH, Inc., news release, January 14, 2000. This is the page count of the Standard Federal Tax Reporter,

9. "Tax Report," Wall Street Journal, May 30, 2001, p. 1. Based on information from CCH, Inc.

10. Edwards, p. 10.

11. Joint Committee on Taxation, Study of the Overall State of the Federal Tax System, vol. 2, p. 150,

12. Author's count.

13. United States v. Powell, 379 U.S. 48, 57 (1964).

14. Connally v. General Construction Co., 269 U.S. 385 (1926).

15. Pilla, p. 23.

16. "Washington in Brief," Washington Post, March 29, 2002, p. A11.

TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Front Page News; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: budget; democrat; dnc; finance; greed; irs; money; tax; taxreform; taxreformthreads
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A good read. Sad but true. Unfortunately NOTHING will ever get done. It's just plain hopeless. HOPELESS!
1 posted on 04/16/2002 1:44:06 PM PDT by vannrox
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To: vannrox

2 posted on 04/16/2002 1:49:07 PM PDT by vannrox
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To: vannrox
And yet more tables. These pictures tell quite a story!

3 posted on 04/16/2002 1:51:20 PM PDT by vannrox
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To: vannrox
Nothing to see here!!! This is just another flawed study by the hopelessly Libertarian Cato Intitute!!!! /sarcasm

This is out of control. Support the National Sales Tax!!!


4 posted on 04/16/2002 1:54:30 PM PDT by EBUCK
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To: *TaxReform

5 posted on 04/16/2002 2:10:08 PM PDT by Libertarianize the GOP
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To: Libertarianize the GOP;Taxman
Bumping and bookmarking
6 posted on 04/16/2002 3:30:39 PM PDT by TruthNtegrity
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And stockpile ammo.

7 posted on 04/16/2002 6:25:55 PM PDT by BenR2
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To: EBUCK; vannrox
It occurs to me that since so many people dislike the income tax and the IRS, we ought have much difficulty generating support for fundamental tax reform.

What do you think?

8 posted on 04/17/2002 6:40:29 PM PDT by Taxman
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To: Taxman; EBUCK; vannrox
One could only wish!!

Unfortunately a few folks'll have to get off there duffs if we are to see some action.

There seems to be abit of a perception problem out there with most focusing on just the individual income tax as representative of the world. That creates alot of inertia and a requirement to educate alot of folks.

Even the icons of the conservative world tend to have and foster that tunnel vision.

Walter Williams, World Net Daily, 10-25-2000

According to the most recent U.S. Treasury Department figures, ... the top 50 percent ($36,000 and over) paid 96 percent of income taxes. Guess what the bottom 50 percent of income earners paid?

If you're among those who pay little or no federal income taxes, what do you care about tax cuts? Moreover, if you think tax cuts pose a threat to government handout programs, you might be openly hostile and support Al Gore's silly "risky scheme" talk. So many Americans paying little or no federal taxes makes for a natural spending constituency. It's like me in the restaurant: What do I care about extravagance if you're footing the bill?

It is no wonder that 70% of the public clamors for more from government believing someone else to foots the bill.

That is alot of inertia to overcome, we cannot be satisfied with just writing the Congress Critter and hoping for the best. We must take an active roll in learning about the advantages in the alternatives to the current system, and educating our families, neighbors, and associates across all the paths of our lives to reach those willing to work for changes.

We can do it, but we must reach out to everyone, trying to reach a substantive portion of those who vote, and especially those who contribute to the campaigns.

Less than 50% of the voting age population votes. Of that 50% we need only a substantial plurality waking up and desiring change enough to work at it and push on their representatives. 26% of adults can change the makeup of the entire congress and presidency. A much smaller number can effect a tilt into that 26% & hit hard where it counts, the Congress Critter's war chest.

Convince just some of the voters, and reach the contributers it will and can happen.

9 posted on 04/17/2002 10:33:13 PM PDT by ancient_geezer
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To: ancient_geezer
Thanks for the pep talk! I agree with everything you wrote or quoted.

The problem is that less than the required 26% even voted for Bush, the semi-tax-cut guy!! (something like 24.999999999999% I'd imagine)


10 posted on 04/18/2002 9:45:14 AM PDT by EBUCK
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That's why it takes a real effort on all our parts to educate our selves first and formost, then reach those we know with our knowledge. That is the way to multiply beyond the limits of the 1 man 1 vote cliche.

One thing is for certain, it isn't going to happen waiting for someone else to to do the job.

11 posted on 04/18/2002 10:48:02 AM PDT by ancient_geezer
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To: ancient_geezer
So long as we are separated by moral issues we will never have the clout to implement tax reform. So long as rats and pubs are separated on abortion, homo-rights, gun-control and drugs there just won't be enough to get it done. We need to stop basing our choices for elected officials on private/local/moral issues and start picking them on the basis of fiscal policy and adherance to the Constitution. Further, until we get the fed out of the regulation of these moral issues most folks won't pay enough attention to what the gubment is susposed to be doing to even notice that we are paying 50%. The moral issues are sideshows, distractions and devious mis-direction polys to keep the populace consumed to the point of apathy.

In the meantime I will be taking your advise and spread the word.


12 posted on 04/18/2002 11:40:42 AM PDT by EBUCK
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There is certainly no disagreement here on the points you bring up, there represent our greates danger, and Achille's Heel.

Until conservatives quit cutting their own throats in there search for immediate and total perfection, its is indeed going to be an uphill battle.

13 posted on 04/18/2002 12:16:58 PM PDT by ancient_geezer
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To: ancient_geezer
Until conservatives quit cutting their own throats

I'm glad you agree. Republicans and the rest of the fractured Right (LibTars/Const-ists ect) are really only separated by a few moral issues. The same is true for a lot of the middle-of-the-roaders/would be fiscal conservatives that turn out to be liberal voters because they don't want the fed running their personal lives. Without the issue of abortion or gay rights being the front and center campaign issues they would be voting conservative. If the heart of federal level conservative politicians would leave the moral issues to the People/States (as it should be and as is mandated by the Constitution) and concentrate on fiscal/Constitutional issues the IRS would be through.

Now that we know that, how do we get there from here?


14 posted on 04/18/2002 12:52:08 PM PDT by EBUCK
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Unfortunately, I don't have alot of time right now to get into specifics. (I will be available later)

But Here's what I see as a potential bills to support to actually address the problems inherent in the current income/payroll system we are all saddled with.


Billy Tauzin offers one solution, a 15% retail sales tax on family consumption that replaces all income taxes but doesn't touch payroll taxes(SS/Mediscare etc.), that comes close to meeting the essentials of what it takes to reverse trends:

Sponsor: Rep Tauzin, W. J. (Billy)(introduced 8/2/2001)
Title: To promote freedom, fairness, and economic opportunity for families by repealing the income tax, abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, and enacting a national retail sales tax to be administered primarily by the States.

John Linder (R Texas) offers a more comprehensive bill to kill all income and payroll taxes outright, and provide a revenue neutral replacement 23% retail sales tax on family consumption:

SPONSOR: Rep Linder, John (introduced 07/17/2001)
A bill to promote freedom, fairness, and economic opportunity by repealing the income tax and other taxes, abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, and enacting a national retail sales tax to be administered primarily by the States.
Refer: &

Other bills, moving in the proper direction are:

To get the ball rolling and focus Congress Critter's attention:

Sponsor: Rep Largent, Steve(introduced 8/2/2001)
Title: To terminate the Internal Revenue Code of 1986.
A bill to prohibit he imposition of any tax by the Internal Revenue Code: (1) for any taxable year beginning after December 31, 2005.

the modification then enactment and ratification of:

Sponsor: (introduced 4/25/2001)
Latest Major Action: 5/9/2001 Referred to House subcommitte.
Title: Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relative to abolishing personal income, estate, and gift taxes and prohibiting the Untied States Government from engaging in the business in competition with its citizens.

(Modified to prohibit all income, payroll, gift estate taxes as HR2525 calls for, or we will see European VAT style hidden taxes along with payroll excises to take over in the place of the of the current individual income tax(i.e. personal income tax) that Ron Paul amendment prohibits.)

And to keep em reminded that there is indeed a Constitution to pay attention to:

Sponsor: (introduced 1/3/2001)
Latest Major Action: 2/12/2001 Referred to House subcommittee
Title: To require Congress to specify the source of authority under the United States Constitution for the enactment of laws, and for other purposes.

15 posted on 04/18/2002 1:35:21 PM PDT by ancient_geezer
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To: ancient_geezer;Tax Reform Threads;Taxreform
Ping, Bump for later read.

Thanks a_g. I'll read up on this stuff so that we can really talk about it.


16 posted on 04/18/2002 1:49:45 PM PDT by EBUCK
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To: ancient_geezer
`Each Act of Congress shall contain a concise and definite statement of the constitutional authority relied upon for the enactment of each portion of that Act. The failure to comply with this section shall give rise to a point of order in either House of Congress. The availability of this point of order does not affect any other available relief.'

Now that's what I'm talking about!!

Now, add another bill that makes them go back and run all previous laws thru the same ringer!!


17 posted on 04/18/2002 2:56:03 PM PDT by EBUCK
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The interesting thing about that one, is that it could be adopted into House and/or Senate rules. Under that circumstance, there is no excuse of well the Senate won't pass it, or the President won't sign it, or .....

As a rule, it can be adopted unilaterally by either body independant of the others, and serve the function intended. That would place the provision into action until such time as it could be reasonably enacted into a full law.

18 posted on 04/18/2002 3:20:03 PM PDT by ancient_geezer
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To: vannrox
Well, other than those points, what's wrong with the income tax?
19 posted on 04/18/2002 3:27:37 PM PDT by Eagle Eye
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To: ancient_geezer
I'd be surprised to see it come to a vote though.
Especially since fiat tactics are so pervasive up there. Having to explain themselves Constitutionaly would only hamper them in their quest to help us.

I really enjoyed Ron Pauls bill too.

Do you have any information as to where these bills are in the process?


20 posted on 04/18/2002 3:41:25 PM PDT by EBUCK
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