The IRS is still targeting tea party groups for illegal scrutiny by refusing to process applications that have been pending for years, a federal court said in a ruling made public Friday, ordering the tax agency to quit stalling.
U.S. District Judge Michael R. Barrett said the IRS can still either approve or deny the Texas Patriots Tea Party’s application for nonprofit status, but the agency can no longer sit on its hands. And he said the IRS must give the application an honest evaluation without prejudice stemming from the yearslong targeting.
In a series of stark findings, Judge Barrett ruled that the IRS did in fact single tea party groups out for special scrutiny because of their political viewpoints in opposition to President Obama — undercutting congressional Democrats who said liberal groups faced the same level of targeting.
“The evidence strongly suggests that the IRS initiated the delay because TPTP’s application was perceived at the screening stage to be a Tea Party case,” Judge Barrett, whose courtroom is in Ohio, said in an opinion that was filed earlier under seal, and was only made public after parts of the 29-page ruling were redacted.
It’s the latest blow to the tax agency, which is facing a separate order from a judge in Washington, D.C., to process a handful of other cases the agency had delayed.
The TPTP applied for non-profit status in 2012 and quickly got caught up in the political targeting that snared hundreds of groups.
After the IRS admitted it was maltreating the groups in 2013, the agency began to process most of the applications — but some of the groups sued, and the IRS refused to process their cases. The IRS said its standard policy was to halt applications in litigation, and also said it was afraid that by beginning processing it would open its agents up to lawsuits against them individually.
Judge Barrett rejected each of those arguments, saying that the IRS itself admitted the litigation policy wasn’t absolute and saying that agents who take an honest look at the application aren’t likely to face a lawsuit.
The TPTP is part of a broader class action lawsuit against the IRS, but it was the only member of the class whose application was still pending.
Mark Meckler, president of Citizens for Self Governance, which helped fund the class action lawsuit, said Judge Barrett’s ruling is evidence of corruption in the Obama administration.
“It is sickening and disheartening,” he said in a statement. “Today’s ruling provides a glimmer of hope that justice for the people will prevail and we will we will continue to fight one tea party American at a time to get back our rights.”