The IRS: Is It Legal?
The American Empire Strikes Back
Search the Web for these claims and the vastness of the tax defier universe becomes quickly apparent; hundreds upon hundreds of websites will appear. The government, meanwhile, has begun to take notice. On April 8, 2008, the Department of Justice launched the National Tax Defier Initiative (TAXDEF), to "prosecute those who take concrete action to defy and deny... the tax laws."
TAXDEF has also garnered attention through prosecution of high-profile defendants. One such case in 2008 was the actor Wesley Snipes, who was sentenced to three years in prison for failing to file Federal returns over a several-year period. His appeals denied, on December 9, 2010, Snipes entered prison to begin serving the maximum sentence.
The 16th Amendment, signed into law in 1913, definitively states, "Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration."
Claim: "The Amendment was never properly ratified"
Amendments require 75% of the States to approve before they can become law. Officially, 38 states, or 79%, ratified the Amendment. The defiers claim the ratification was a sham, that the Secretary, the ironically named Philander Knox, ignored misspellings and errors in the States' returned documents, thus illegally counting their votes as valid. In the eyes of tax defiers, just four States returned pristine documents and ratified the Amendment.
While it's true the documents had errors, the legal authority of Knox is unaffected by them. In its 1986 ruling on U.S. v. Thomas, the Court ruled that "taking into account both the triviality of the deviations and the treatment of earlier amendments that had experienced more substantial problems... the [Solicitor of the Dept. of State] authorized [Knox] to declare the amendment adopted."
Claim: "The 16th Amendment does not mean the government can levy it"
Tax defiers often misuse a quote from a 1916 Supreme Court decision: "The 16th Amendment did not empower the Federal Government to levy a new tax." This appears throughout the tax defier universe; from Aaron Russo's film, "Freedom Freedom to Fascism" to We the People Foundation's handbooks on the IRS.
But the federal government always had the power to tax income, as Article 1 of the Constitution sets forth: "Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises." During the Civil War, this same authority is what gave Lincoln power to institute the nation's first income taxes to support the fight. (Robert Schultz, head of We the People Foundation, did not to respond to our requests for comment on this discrepancy.)