Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Camp, Bryan T.
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Today's column discusses the Tax Court's jurisdiction to hear stand-alone petitions from taxpayers who have been denied equitable relief under section 6015(f), one of the three spousal relief provisions contained in section 6015. Congress enacted section 6015 in the Internal Revenue Service Restructuring and Reform Act of 1998 (RRA 98) to replace the old "innocent spouse" provisions in section 6013(e). Professor Camp’s prior columns have focused on how RRA 98 inserted inappropriate adversarial process checks on the traditional inquisitorial process of tax collection (using the collection "delay" process provisions in sections 6320 and 6330 as a prime example). The jurisdictional controversy over section 6015(f) reveals a different problem: how Congress pinned the Tax Court between the rock of sovereign immunity and the hard place of doing equity. Thus caught between the commands of the head and the demands of the heart, to use historian Perry Miller's famous dichotomy, the Tax Court has made the wrong choice. This column explains why.