As citizens, we sometimes seek answers from the government, be it information about UFOs or more practical questions such as what provision grants the IRS the right to collect taxes. For years, tax protesters have been asking the latter, only to be met with evasive responses from the IRS.
The case of We the People Foundation, Inc. v. United States, No.?05-5359 (D.C. Cir. 2007) addresses the issue of whether the government is obligated to answer all questions and petitions, and whether taxpayers can withhold payment of taxes without a response. While the case revolves around a nonprofit organization’s grievances on tax, privacy, and war policies, it raises broader questions about the extent of the First Amendment’s protection of the right to petition and the government’s duty to respond.
Facts & Procedural History
The We the People Foundation is a non-profit that aims to promote various Constitutional issues. Many of these issues involve ideas about the Federal government not being authorized to lay and collect taxes. The courts have referred to the organization as promoting tax protester arguments. The government also sued the foundation to stop the sale of an alleged tax fraud scheme.
In this case, the Foundation sued the Federal government for failing to respond adequately to their petitions, which raised grievances regarding tax, privacy, and war policies.
About the First Amendment
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution is a critical part of the Bill of Rights, which was ratified in 1791. The Amendment provides protection for several essential liberties, including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The First Amendment’s text states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The language of the First Amendment has been interpreted in numerous legal cases, and it remains a critical source of protection for individual rights and liberties in the United States.
Right to Action on Petitions
The Foundation argued that the First Amendment guarantees their right to receive a response to or official consideration of their petitions, but the court held that the First Amendment does not encompass such a right.
The First Amendment provides that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The Foundation contended that they have a right under the First Amendment to receive a government response to or official consideration of a petition for a redress of grievances. However, the court disagreed.
The court cited Supreme Court precedents in Smith v. Arkansas State Highway Employees and Minnesota State Board for Community Colleges v. Knight, which held that the First Amendment does not provide a right to a response or official consideration of a petition. The Foundation attempted to distinguish those cases from their claims, but the court found their distinction to be strained.
Finally, the Foundation cited the work of several commentators who suggested that Smith and Knight overlooked important historical information regarding the right to petition. However, the court noted that it must follow the binding Supreme Court precedent and under that precedent, Executive and Legislative responses to and consideration of petitions are entrusted to the discretion of those Branches. Therefore, the court affirmed the judgment of the District Court.
Injunctive Relief For Collection of Taxes
The Foundation argued that they have the right to withhold payment of their taxes until they receive adequate action on their petitions.
The government argued that the Federal courts lack jurisdiction over either claim because the government has not waived its sovereign immunity.
The Government argued that the plaintiffs’ claims are barred by sovereign immunity. However, plaintiffs contended that Section 702 of the Administrative Procedure Act waives the Government’s sovereign immunity. The Government acknowledged that Section 702 waives sovereign immunity from suits for injunctive relief.
The Government further argued that the Anti-Injunction Act presents a barrier to judicial relief in this case because of the Act’s provision that “no suit for the purpose of restraining the assessment or collection of any tax shall be maintained in any court by any person.”
The court agreed with the Government that the Anti-Injunction Act precludes the plaintiffs’ second claim related to collection of taxes. The court also ruled that the Anti-Injunction Act bars the Foundation’s claim for injunctive relief with respect to the collection of taxes.
This case addresses Constitutional questions about the First Amendment’s right to petition and the right to withhold taxes pending action on petitions. The court held that the First Amendment does not guarantee a right to receive a government response to a petition and that the Anti-Injunction Act prevents individuals from seeking injunctive relief to stop tax collection. This case shows that the government doesn’t have to answer most questions and one cannot fail to pay taxes if the questions are not answered.