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Tea party viewpoint discrimination suits against IRS to move forward

Former IRS official Lois Lerner
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

One of the fronts in the struggle to bring the IRS to account for the harassment of tea party and conservative groups has been a number of civil law suits that have been filed against the tax agency and some IRS officials like Lois Lerner by some of the same groups. According to a Friday story in AP, a federal court ruled that these suits can go forward. Furthest along, Hot Air reports, is a suit launched by a group called Z Street, a pro-Israel organization that is alleging viewpoint discrimination.

Judge Susan Dlot, a federal judge based in Cincinnati, made the ruling, allowing the groups to proceed partly based on viewpoint discrimination grounds. She rejected one claim, that the IRS violated the privacy of individual members, but only because she stated that the individuals would have to file separate suits dealing with that allegation. The IRS has claimed that the harassment, involving delays in applications for tax free status, was the result of low level employees in the Cincinnati office. But there is evidence that officials in Washington, including Lerner, were involved as well.

The Z Street suit, which was actually allowed to go forward two months ago by Judge Ketanje Brown Jackson is of most interest because of two reasons. First it is furthest along, having been filed in August, 2010, years before the scandal broke loose. Second the group seems to have documented evidence that they were subjected to viewpoint discrimination because their policy differed from that of the Obama administration.

The importance of these lawsuits derive from a legal concept called discovery. The groups now pursuing the IRS in court will be allowed to subpoena documents and to place IRS officials under oath. In effect they will launch their own investigation of the dodgy practices that the tax agency conducted against enemies of the Obama administration, something that the Justice Department seems lackadaisical in doing currently. It has the potential of blowing the case wide open, with dire political and legal consequences for the Obama administration.