CINCINNATI — A federal judge Wednesday gave preliminary approval to a $3.5 million settlement of a lawsuit against the IRS over alleged targeting of tea party groups and other conservative organizations.
U.S. District Judge Michael Barrett set a July 10 hearing in Cincinnati on making the settlement final, and scheduled deadlines for claims and objections.
The Justice Department had announced last year that the case had been settled, pending approval of terms.
The lead plaintiff was the California-based Norcal Tea Party Patriots. The case swelled into a class-action suit by hundreds of groups. The court will decide how much each gets after legal costs.
The 2013 lawsuit during the Barack Obama administration was over treatment of conservative groups who said they were singled out for extra IRS scrutiny on tax-exempt status applications.
“These are groups of law-abiding citizens who should have never had their First Amendment rights infringed upon by the IRS,” Jenny Beth Martin, president of the Tea Party Patriots umbrella group, said Wednesday. “These are groups that want the government to be accountable.”
The Justice Department declined comment.
Republican President Donald Trump’s Justice Department also settled a second lawsuit with an apology from the IRS for the intensive scrutiny of the groups, which argued their constitutional rights were violated when they were singled out based on their political views.
The case hounded Obama’s Democratic administration, with some Republicans disappointed there wasn’t stronger action taken in the scandal.
The anti-establishment tea party movement preceded Trump’s populist, America-first presidential campaign.
Republicans were outraged in 2013 when the IRS admitted the targeting, in part by zeroing in on groups with words such as “tea party” or “patriot” in their names. Many had their applications delayed for months and years. Some were asked improper questions about their donors and even their religious practices, an inspector general’s report found.
The Obama Justice Department announced in 2015 that no one at the IRS would be prosecuted. It said investigators found mismanagement, but no evidence that the tax agency had targeted a political group based on its viewpoints or had obstructed justice.
Some Republicans were disappointed when Trump’s Justice Department wouldn’t reopen the case against Lois Lerner, who had led the IRS office that processes applications for tax-exempt status.
She and much of the agency’s leadership resigned or retired over the scandal. The IRS has said it made changes to how tax-exempt status applications are handled.
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