Tea-party suits against IRS dismissed as moot

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

A federal district court has largely dismissed a lawsuit bought by numerous conservative groups against the Internal Revenue Service over its allegedly politicized and improper handling of their applications for tax-exempt status.

Because the IRS ultimately approved these groups' tax-exempt status, Judge Reggie Walton concluded that most charges in the complaint are moot. Of course, the plaintiffs were essentially seeking to challenge a pattern or system of abusive enforcement of the law. The cessation of such practices against particular defendants moots their cases, as the Supreme Court held in Lyons v. City of Los Angeles. To be sure, abusive patterns are made up of individual incidents, and mootness risks loosing the forest for the trees. But it also encourages a voluntary cessation of wronging. Moreover, securing judicial review of systematic or institutional law enforcement defects should not be more difficult than getting redress for one's own injuries.

The one wrinkle here is that in Lyons, the plaintiff could at least secure some judicial review over the challenged practices as part of a claim for money damages, which are not mooted. Here, the money damage claims against IRS officials were rightly blocked by immunity, bringing an end to the matter.