National Review columnist examines the Lois Lerner scandal

C. Boyden Gray explores for National Review Online some of the interesting legal issues surrounding Lois Lerner and the IRS scandal.

Some people can’t take “no” for an answer. Often that’s an admirable quality. But when you are a witness at the center of a congressional investigation, and the “no” reflects the House Oversight Committee’s decision not to accept your refusal to testify, then it’s not quite so simple. And that is where Lois Lerner, the former Internal Revenue Service official at the center of the IRS scandal, now finds herself.

Lerner’s case is by now well known. From 2006 to 2013, she was the IRS’s Director of Exempt Organizations, vested with power to decide which nonprofit organizations receive tax-exempt status, which ones do not, and which ones find themselves subjected to painful trials in the process.

That is no small matter. As Chief Justice John Marshall warned, “the power to tax” is “the power to destroy.” All the more so for nonprofit organizations, for which tax-exempt status truly is the difference between life and death. …

… Precisely because of the crucial role that nonprofit organizations play in American society, the IRS’s partisan abuse of power, singling out conservative tea-party organizations for particularly negative treatment, is a public scandal.

According to the public record, Ms. Lerner played a central role in perpetrating that scandal. From her IRS perch, she instructed colleagues that tea-party groups’ nonprofit applications were “a very dangerous matter,” and directed that such groups receive serious scrutiny. And she took the “tea party” label to be a “pejorative” — Samuel Adams and the other original Sons of Liberty notwithstanding.

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