In a unanimous opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court is allowing the IRS to go on secret, warrantless fishing expeditions through innocent taxpayers’ bank records in order to identify and collect unpaid taxes from family members and associates who have no legal interest in those bank accounts.
Despite acknowledging that “the authority vested in tax collectors may be abused, as all power is subject to abuse,” and that “Congress has given the IRS considerable power,” the Supreme Court’s 9-0 ruling in Polselli v. IRS declined to restrict the IRS’s authority. Attorneys for The Rutherford Institute and Cato Institute had filed an amicus brief in Polselli arguing that the sweeping investigatory power wielded by the IRS—to circumvent the Fourth Amendment by carrying out warrantless searches of the bank accounts and records of innocent people, who are given no notice or right to object to the search, merely because they may be associated with a delinquent taxpayer—offends every constitutional sensibility on the right to privacy.
“This practice of investigating the bank records of innocent taxpayers because they may have family members or associates who are delinquent on their taxes is merely a perverse form of guilt by association,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “At a minimum, Fourth Amendment protections should not disappear just because sensitive information is shared with third parties, such as banks and attorneys.”
The case arose after an IRS Revenue Officer, seeking to collect underpaid federal taxes by Remo Polselli, served summonses on the banks of Polselli’s wife and attorney in order to find account and financial records concerning Polselli. The IRS agent did not notify Polselli’s wife or attorney of the summonses, but the banks voluntarily did so. Polselli’s wife and attorney subsequently filed motions in federal district court to quash the IRS’s summonses. In siding with the IRS, the district court held that Polselli’s wife and attorney are not entitled to notice of the summons and have no right to even be heard on their motions to quash the summonses.
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