“It is not
to be supposed that juries would enforce a tax upon an individual which he had
never agreed to pay.” — Lysander Spooner
A few days ago an Atlanta jury found former IRS agent Sherry Jackson guilty of "willful failure to file tax returns." Ms. Jackson quit her job with the Service some years ago when she became troubled about the legitimacy of what she was doing there.
Since then she has become an outspoken critic of what she sees as the fraudulent enforcement of a law, which, if not a massive fraud, is certainly so confusing, vague and subject to interpretation that it should be declared "void for vagueness."
The Supremes have told us many times that laws are supposed to be clear and understandable. Where they are not, you, the citizen, are supposed to get the benefit of the doubt, not the government.
In 1914 they had this to say in Billings v. U.S.: "Tax statutes….
should be strictly construed, and, if any ambiguity be found to exist,
it must be resolved in favor of the citizen."
They told us in 1923 in U.S. v. Merriam: "But in statutes levying taxes the literal meaning of the words employed is most important, for such statutes are not to be extended by implication beyond the clear import of the language used. If the words are doubtful, the doubt must be resolved against the Government and in favor of the taxpayer."
If the words are doubtful? Any ambiguity? A nuclear submarine couldn't negotiate the deep end of the Internal Revenue Code. The Code contains nearly four million words. The word "income" is never defined. Enormous industries dedicated to compliance, enforcement and resistance have grown up around the code. Each depends on the law's baffling complexity for continued prosperity.
Have your tax return completed by ten expert accountants and you can easily find you owe ten different figures. Consult any number of authors in the Tax Honesty Movement and you will find you owe no tax at all for a variety of reasons, all of which sound perfectly reasonable.
Many Knights Errant of the Tax Honesty Movement are paying a high price for their interpretations of the mind numbing Code. Irwin Schiff is doing hard time because he read the law and decided only "profits" are income. Larken Rose is in jail because he read the law and decided Code Section 861 exempted all but foreign income. Dick Simkanin is a prisoner because he didn't think the was required to withhold taxes from his employees. Clearly there's some ambiguity in the code which wasn't resolved in favor of these citizens.
And now Sherry Jackson, former IRS agent, CPA, wife, mother, and crusader for honest answers to tax questions will be doing time as well. Sherry believes there is no law making any American liable for the income tax. It's as good a theory as any, shared by many smart people. You surely can't find any liability clauses in a search of the code. The words "liability" and "liable" occur only in sections about withholding agents and foreigners. And then only twice. It's the very definition of doubt and ambiguity.
And it's not like congress doesn't know how to write a clear law. In dozens of other tax laws there is no doubt about the people who are liable for and the subject of the tax. That's why there are no Tax Honesty Movements for any of the blizzard of other federal taxes.
There are no "tax protesters" fighting the taxes on gasoline, liquor, beer, wine, estates, luxury automobiles, wagers, tires, tobacco, or any other excise taxes. (there are plenty more) All the tax laws other than the Income Tax are written so clearly that there is never a question of who and what are being taxed.
Juries of average Americans can't figure out the income tax when exposed to it for days at a time in courtrooms. Sherry Jackson was found guilty of not filing tax returns. So was Larken Rose. But juries found Vernice Kuglin, Lloyd Long, Tom Cryer, Franklin Sanders, Whitey Harrell not guilty of the same thing. And none of them, by the way, had actually filed.
Mrs. Jackson will now be humiliated in a long stay at taxpayer expense in prison. A productive, hard working, honest member of society will be punished, not for harming anyone, but as an example to those who might consider questioning the vagaries of a nearly incomprehensible tax code. She has supposedly broken a law, but it’s a law that no one can point to with certainty and say: "Here it is. This is what you had to do."
Americans are a law abiding bunch. We generally obey the law even when we would rather not. If we have to imprison intelligent, honest people for asking the wrong questions about a tax, we should be asking ourselves what it is about that particular tax that requires such drastic punishment. We should start asking the same questions that people like Sherry Jackson are being punished for asking.
Where's the law and how are we supposed to understand it?