February 26, 2021 The Tax Lawyer

The Taxpayer Bill of Rights and the Right to Be Informed: The Positive or Negative Way You Look at It

Vol. 74, No. 2 - Winter 2021

by Stephanie Hunter McMahon

Abstract

In 2015, Congress enacted a Taxpayers Bill of Rights. To date, it has had little impact in litigation; however, its rights could be given power through interpretation. For example, one listed right, the right to be informed, could be interpreted as a negative right: a shield to protect taxpayer choices in the absence of government-issued tax guidance. Under this interpretation, taxpayers could not be punished for their own reasonable interpretations of the tax law in the absence of prior government interpretation. Alternatively, this right could be interpreted as a positive right: a requirement that the government produce guidance to assist taxpayers in understanding their obligations. Under this interpretation, taxpayers would have the ability to request specific binding guidance. Under either of these interpretations, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights could be given meaning and empower taxpayers. Continued discussion by courts, as informed by discussion in academia, the media, and the public could give true meaning to these rights. Much as with our rights under the Constitution, the power that rights convey depends on their evolution over time.

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