The U.S. Taxpayer Bill of Rights: Window Dressing or Expression of Justice?
AuthorAbreu, Alice G.
Greenstein, Richard K.
Bill of Rights
Taxpayer Bill of Rights
Normative basis for enforcement
Permanent link to this recordhttp://hdl.handle.net/20.500.12613/6686
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AbstractThe subject of taxpayer rights is receiving increasing attention worldwide. Tax scholars, practitioners, and administrators are grappling with the challenges of delivering on the promise of taxpayer rights, the benefits of success, and the price of failure. Nevertheless, a fundamental question has escaped pointed examination: What does the concept of taxpayer rights offer? In this paper we suggest an answer to that question. Our focus is the U. S. Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TBOR). At first blush, the TBOR may seem to be no more than window dressing because it does not codify legal remedies for violations of the enumerated taxpayer rights. Nevertheless, we argue that by its explicit use of the language of rights and by its adoption by the IRS and enactment by Congress, the TBOR generates a powerful normative force that supports enforcement. That force, in turn, can change the behavior of the IRS toward taxpayers and support calls for Congress, Treasury, or the courts to fashion legal remedies. Put differently, there is strong reason to predict that the adoption and enactment of the TBOR will make the administration of the tax law more just. Our format is a bit unconventional. What follows is a dialogue in which we ask and answer challenging questions. We believe this format clarifies the fundamental issues raised by the concept of taxpayer rights and best illuminates some of the tensions generated.
CitationAlice G. Abreu & Richard K. Greenstein, The U.S. Taxpayer Bill of Rights: Window Dressing or Expression of Justice?, 4 JOTA 25 (2018).
Available at: http://jota.website/index.php/JoTA/article/view/196
Citation to related workJournal of Tax Administration (JOTA)
Has partJournal of Tax Administration (JOTA), Vol. 4, No. 2 (2018)
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Embracing the TBORAbreu, Alice G.; Greenstein, Richard K. (2017-11-27)When Congress codified the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (the “TBOR”) in 2015 the tax bar largely shrugged, but that is a mistake. Section 7803(a)(3) is not just another iteration of the phrase Congress used to christen legislation designed to reign in perceived IRS abuses in the 80’s and 90’s, when Congress enacted three different pieces of legislation that bore the name “Taxpayer Bill of Rights.” Despite their lofty titles, none of those enactments contained a single amendment to the Internal Revenue Code that used the word “right,” or employed the language of rights. By contrast, section 7803(a)(3) actually refers to “taxpayer rights” and lists ten items. Therefore, despite the claims of its promoters that the 2015 legislation simply restates rights already provided by the Code, the codification of the TBOR has the power to transform the tax practice and the relationship between taxpayers and the IRS. In this Article we explain why. Specifically, we make three arguments. First, construing the 2015 codification of the TBOR as a meaningless gesture ignores the well-established canon of statutory construction against surplusage, as well as its important corollary: when Congress amends a statute it intends to change something. Second, the TBOR significantly enhances taxpayers’ normative basis for demanding legal remedies for violations of their rights because it invokes procedural justice, using the language of rights where only government duties existed before. Third, the TBOR may have actually created taxpayer rights. We do not argue that all taxpayer rights should be enforced either all the time or to the same extent, as that could be disruptive or even catastrophic for tax administration and may not be necessary to allow the TBOR to achieve its goals. But we do maintain that the codification of the TBOR can transform the legal environment so that demands for enforcement can be weighed by the courts on a case by case basis, in light of all the facts and circumstances, which include the identity and attributes of the taxpayer. Recent events confirm the importance of the TBOR and suggest that the tide of taxpayer indifference has begun to turn. On November 8, 2017, Facebook filed a complaint against the IRS, citing the TBOR’s “right to appeal a decision of the Internal Revenue Service in an independent forum,” section 7803(a)(3)(E)), as the basis for its request that the court “[i]ssue an injunction or mandamus-like relief ordering Defendants to provide Facebook access to IRS Appeals.” We believe that Facebook is just the first of many taxpayers who will formally embrace the TBOR as a source of rights and as the basis for crafting remedies to enforce those rights.
A human rights framework for the AnthropoceneSinden, Amy (2019-12-04)Calls for recognition of a human right to security from climate disruption have become more common, from both courts and scholars. But such a right has a far better chance of being effective – substantively and rhetorically – if grounded in the civil and political rights tradition, rather than the second or third-generation rights of the post-Second World War era. This chapter begins to sketch out some arguments that would situate a human right to climate security squarely in the civil and political rights tradition by connecting that new right to the fundamental values and concerns that have always animated that tradition. Whether one views those values as centrally concerned with the maintenance of individual autonomy and dignity or with protecting the integrity of the democratic process, civil and political rights are at bottom a response to power imbalance. While many twentieth century theorists have understandably focused on the power imbalance most emblematic of that century’s central moral challenge (that fuelled by prejudice), in constructing a human right for the twenty-first century, we should broaden that lens to encompass the other forms of power imbalance driving the climate crisis: between wealthy corporate interests and the poor and powerless; between us and future generations or other species; and between the functioning governments of the globe that possess the unique power to tackle this textbook collective action problem and individual citizens.
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