Twenty-five Tea Party groups filed suit against the Obama administration today, two weeks after an Internal Revenue Service official admitted the agency targeted the groups for extra scrutiny.
The suit claims the government overstepped its authority and violated the groups’ First and Fifth Amendment rights, as well as the Administrative Procedure Act and the IRS’s own rules and regulations. The suit, filed by the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), seeks unspecified damages.
According to the ACLJ, 13 of the plaintiffs did receive tax-exempt status, but only after lengthy delays. Ten still have applications pending, and two withdrew their applications in frustration.
Lawmakers from both parties have denounced the IRS over the incident, which the agency claims was isolated and not prompted by an administration-wide attitude of hostility toward conservative groups. President Barack Obama denied all knowledge of the agency’s actions, until he heard televised news reports. But Tea Party groups and other conservative activists say the incident is part of a wider trend among government agencies.
The president has said those responsible will be held accountable. But Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the ACLJ, said filing a federal lawsuit was the only way to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.
“The lawsuit sends a very powerful message to the IRS and the Obama administration—including the White House: Americans are not going to be bullied and intimidated by our government,” he said in a written statement. “They will not be subjected to unconstitutional treatment and unlawfully singled out and punished because of their ideological beliefs. Those responsible for this unprecedented intimidation ploy must be held accountable.”
The suit describes the effort to delay approval and deny tax-exempt status to Tea Party groups as a “comprehensive, pervasive, invidious and organized scheme.” IRS agents targeted the groups solely because of their political viewpoints, the suit says.
In addition to the Obama administration and the IRS, the suit lists as defendants Attorney General Eric Holder, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, former IRS acting Commissioner Steven Miller, Lois Lerner, director of the Exempt Organizations Division for the IRS, and Holly Paz, director of the Office of Rulings and Agreements.
President Obama asked for Miller’s resignation a few days after the scandal broke. Lerner refused to testify during a congressional hearing last week, pleading her Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. She was placed on administrative leave a few days later.
Linchpins of Liberty, Franklin, Tenn.
Patriots Educating Concerned Americans Now, Redding, Calif.
Greenwich Tea Party Patriots, South Jersey Inc., Woodstown, N.J.
Greater Phoenix Tea Party Patriots, Chandler, Ariz.
Unite in Action Inc., Lavonia, Mich.
Allen Area Patriots, Lucas, Texas
Laurens County Tea Party, Laurens, S.C.
North East Tarrant Tea Party Inc., Irving, Texas
Myrtle Beach Tea Party Inc., Conway, S.C.
Albuquerque Tea Party Inc., Albuquerque, N.M.
Colorado 9/12 Project, Denver, Colo.
San Antonio Tea Party Inc., San Antonio, Texas
Wetumpka Tea Party Inc., Wetumpka, Ala.
OKC PIA Association, Newalla, Okla.
Richmond Tea Party, Richmond, Va.
Hawaii Tea Party, D/B/A Maui Tea Party, Kahului, Hawaii
Shelby County Liberty Group, Sidney, Ohio
Manassas Tea Party, Manassas, Va.
The Honolulu Tea Party, Honolulu, Hawaii
Waco Tea Party, Waco, Texas
Kentucky 9/12 Project Inc., Georgetown, Ky.
San Fernando Valley Patriots Inc., Encino, Calif.
Portage County Tea Party Inc., Kent, Ohio
Chattanooga Tea Party, Ooltewah, Tenn.
American Patriots Against Government Excess, Fremont, Ohio