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The Death of Tax Court Exceptionalism

By Stephanie Hoffer & Christopher J. Walker. Full text here.

Tax exceptionalism — the view that tax law does not have to play by the administrative law rules that govern the rest of the regulatory state — has come under attack in recent years. In 2011, the Supreme Court rejected such exceptionalism by holding that judicial review of the Treasury Department’s interpretations of the tax code is subject to the same Chevron deference regime that applies throughout the administrative state. The D.C. Circuit followed suit by rejecting the IRS’s position that its notices are not subject to judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). This Article calls for the demise of another instance of tax exceptionalism: the United States Tax Court’s longstanding view that it is not governed by the APA.

In addition to presenting the legal case against Tax Court exceptionalism, the Article explores administrative law and tax policy considerations that favor the Tax Court following traditional administrative law, including consistent application of the law, efficient allocation of resources, horizontal and vertical equity, comparative agency expertise, and a proper separation of powers. Moreover, by following administrative law principles that may be more deferential to the IRS in a particular case, the Tax Court can establish a richer dialogue with the IRS to improve agency procedures and decision-making — thus advancing tax policy’s interest in protecting less sophisticated taxpayers while increasing economic efficiency. With a growing circuit conflict as to whether the Tax Court is bound by the APA, the Tax Court should reverse course now before the Supreme Court intervenes to declare the death of tax exceptionalism in yet another area of tax law.