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April 27, 2009 4:59 PM   Subscribe

Stupid question filter : "There is no law that requires U.S. citizens to pay income tax" Is this true? Can anyone site the Law?

First off let me say I've got no dog in this fight, I'm trying to figure out a reasonable answer for a friend that made the claim "No law requires us to pay income tax" This is one of the videos he wanted me to watch. Why is this position bullshit? I know the IRS inforces, the questiong I have is what is their legal authority? Is there a law in black and white, or am I just missing the point?
posted by nola to Law & Government (33 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sixteenth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution
posted by leotrotsky at 5:00 PM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


"The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration."
posted by leotrotsky at 5:01 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why is this position bullshit?

I'm not trying to be cute by saying this: Google "Wesley Snipes Jail" and read up on why Mr. Snipes was sentenced to three years in prison for failing to file tax returns.

Your friend is wrong. I don't have time right now to set forth the argument for just how dumb his argument is. But federal prosecutors make that argument quite compellingly all the time.

The Internal Revenue Code is law - in black and white.
posted by The World Famous at 5:04 PM on April 27, 2009


Nola,

I've previously answered this question here. In fact, the youtube video you've linked to is a clip from the same crappy movie, From Freedom to Fascism, that I criticized in my earlier post.

If you like appeals to authority, IAAL and I took federal income tax in law school FWIW.
posted by saslett at 5:05 PM on April 27, 2009


The Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution, ratified February 3, 1913:

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.

After that, it's kinda tough to argue that income taxes aren't grounded in federal law—most of these people try to claim that the Sixteenth Amendment was never actually ratified.
posted by koeselitz at 5:06 PM on April 27, 2009


Here's an overview of the most common tax protester arguments. If you refute the "there's no law!" claim, your friend will probably move on to some variation of one of those.
posted by scody at 5:10 PM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


"The Sixteenth Amendment" is not the answer. It merely says that Congress is allowed to tax us on our income, not that it does tax us on our income.

The actual answer is United States Code Title 26 Subtitle A, creatively entitled "Income Taxes".

Fair warning: No matter what you tell these people, they'll refuse to believe it, and will counter it with astonishingly wacky arguments.

I suggest The Tax Protester FAQ for a very good overview of what you're up against if you choose to engage such a person.
posted by Flunkie at 5:15 PM on April 27, 2009 [6 favorites]


"No law requires us to pay income tax"

No law requires you to read the Constitution.

I think the question has mostly been answered here, but the only thing I would direct you to is looking up the history of the 16th and what the whole debate was about...
posted by wfrgms at 5:16 PM on April 27, 2009


The sixteenth amendment does not require the payment of income taxes, in spite of what three previous posters have said. It is just the amendment that gave the feds legal authority to pass laws that might require the payment of income taxes.

It is illegal not to pay income taxes because the laws that the 16th Amendment made possible were in fact passed in pretty short order. The laws are all in the IRS code, which are legally binding. Title 26 of the IRS code is where you want to look. There's a line in there somewhere that says something like, "There is hereby imposed on the income of every individual a tax..." or something like that.

Your friend is very wrong.
posted by crapples at 5:17 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Whoops -- Hadn't seen Flunkie's answer when I answered. ... What he said.
posted by crapples at 5:18 PM on April 27, 2009


Also google "internal revenue code."

I'm an attorney who took federal taxation in law school and I wished at exam time there was no internal revenue code. But there are tons of code sections allowing the us to collect taxes from us.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:23 PM on April 27, 2009


That's funny, I pointed out the 16th Amendment and got Sixteenth Amendment was never actually ratified as a response. After that I was out of ideas. Thanks for all the info will be passing this link along.
posted by nola at 5:24 PM on April 27, 2009


This may not be helpful because I can't find the link, but there was a very recent NYT article about all the different 'gurus' who make it their business to educate people on why they shouldn't pay income tax.

Essentially, they just want you to pay them, either by buying their book or attending their seminar. Every once in a while a guru gets sent to jail by the IRS, and the other gurus use that rationale to say 'see, my way is better.'

Wesley Snipes ended up not going to jail for so long because his argument in court was that a 'guru' misled him.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 5:26 PM on April 27, 2009


Yes, the most specific answer is 26 United States Code s. 1, which gives the income tax rate tables and includes a series of subsections beginning with "There is hereby imposed on the taxable income of" and then going on to exhaustively list every kind of person. Link.

This is further clarified by 26 USC 61, which says, "Except as otherwise provided in this subtitle, gross income means all income from whatever source derived."
posted by grobstein at 5:27 PM on April 27, 2009


There is a pretty comprehensive document on the IRS website that explains in detail what they call "Frivolous Tax Arguments".
posted by gyusan at 5:28 PM on April 27, 2009


(Of course, if the 16th Amendment had not been ratified, then the taxing provisions of Chapter 26 of the US Code would be unconstitutional under the apportionment clause. But -- fortunately if you love taxes -- the 16th Amendment was ratified, and became the supreme law of the land in 1913.)
posted by grobstein at 5:31 PM on April 27, 2009


I pointed out the 16th Amendment and got Sixteenth Amendment was never actually ratified as a response.
Yes, that's a popular one. It's also based on some amazingly idiotic clams, such as -- I kid you not -- some state legislatures did not capitalize the word "States" in "without apportionment among the several States", and therefore (goes the claim) the thing that those state legislatures ratified was not the Sixteenth Amendment.

I think it's probable that most tax protesters know what their claims are based on, so I guess that there's a chance that if you point things like this out, your friend will be rightfully embarrassed at its absurdity. But, having had too many conversations with too many tax protesters, I frankly doubt it.
posted by Flunkie at 5:33 PM on April 27, 2009


That's great gyusan, I wandered around the IRS site for a while looking for something addressing this but I guess my search skills are shit.
posted by nola at 5:33 PM on April 27, 2009


I kid you not -- some state legislatures did not capitalize the word "States" in "without apportionment among the several States"

Ok I think I get it, this is like when Obama was being sworn in and Chief Justice John Roberts borked the oath and people were saying stupid shit like "Is he really the Prez now?" "Does this void the whole thing?"

I knew this was a stupid question, but we all get at least one right?
posted by nola at 5:39 PM on April 27, 2009


It's not a stupid question... you're basically asking "how can I effectively refute tax protesters' idiotic conspiracy arguments," which seems like a very good question in my book.
posted by scody at 5:44 PM on April 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Straight Dope on income tax, the Sixteenth Amendment, and idiots.
posted by mattdidthat at 5:51 PM on April 27, 2009


Also, by the way, you can point out to any wanker who wants to claim that 'nyah nyah! the 16th amendment was never ratified!' that the Constitution itself gives Congress the power to levy taxes:

Section 8. Clause 1. The Congress shall have Power to lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.

The purpose of the sixteenth amendment was merely to remove certain limitations on that power; specifically, the Supreme Court had ruled that under the Constitutional language taxes could only be levied by Congress indirectly, and the 16th allowed Congress to levy those taxes directly. If it comes to this, you may point out that (a) the distinction between indirect and direct levy of taxes is not really Constitutional, and (b) what exactly would it matter if, instead of asking for our taxes directly, Congress just had states ask directly? That would just mean that Congress could ask however much it damned well pleased—more than it currently does, it if wanted—and it would be up to the states to collect. Would things really be that much better if (in my own case) the state of Colorado was deciding where the hell it would get all that money instead of me? Hell, if that were the case, I'd probably end up getting taxed more, knowing the state beaurocracy.
posted by koeselitz at 5:52 PM on April 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Here's an interesting Washington Monthly story about the Posse Comitatus movement, an offshoot of the tax protestors.
posted by DavidNYC at 5:59 PM on April 27, 2009


Even if the 16th ammendment were somehow invalid, which it isn't, the way our legal system works is that any law passed by the legislature is de-facto legal and valid, until/if the supreme court rules on it. They could pass a law tomorrow saying that it's illegal to criticize puppies, and you'd have to follow it until the SC strikes it down.
posted by gjc at 6:01 PM on April 27, 2009


(Not so, but more importantly the 16th Amendment was passed in response to a SCOTUS pronouncement that a federal income tax like ours would be unconstitutional.)
posted by grobstein at 6:19 PM on April 27, 2009


Try this argument: So? What if it is? What is he planning on doing about it besides complain and does he believe complaining will change things given how institutional the belief that it is a valid law is? And why isn't he complaining about the other laws that must be unconstitutional for the same reasons?

Ask him to apply the reasoning that the 16th amendment was unconstitutional to all other laws it might apply to. If he believes that Ohio wasn't really a state (and hence William H. Taft wasn't really president) have him find all other laws that were passed that shouldn't have been.

What about some other issues he may be overlooking about legal technicalities? Like... what about the states that tried to secede back during the Civil War? Maybe the U.S. government didn't have the authority to force them to stay as part of the United States and all seceded states aren't really part of the United States today. This would mean that Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter, Lyndon Johnson, Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Woodrow Wilson and maybe Andrew Johnson weren't really president (not having been a 'natural born' citizen and all) and any law they signed is unconstitutional. Oh, and don't forget about all the presidents from Ohio. There have been several.

And don't forget, if a state wasn't really a state it didn't have any electoral college votes so who would have been elected president For Reals every election in the last 1.5 centuries?

With any luck his head will explode at the implications of his beliefs.
posted by Green With You at 6:23 PM on April 27, 2009 [5 favorites]



It's not a stupid question... you're basically asking "how can I effectively refute tax protesters' idiotic conspiracy arguments," which seems like a very good question in my book.


Agreed. It's an excellent question and this thread has provided a much better refutation than I heard a few months ago on an NPR show where a caller ran through a series of these arguments. Instead of handling him in a logical fashion the host and guest essentially called the guy a nut and hung up on him.
posted by odinsdream at 8:59 PM on April 27, 2009


I think it's probable that most tax protesters know what their claims are based on, so I guess that there's a chance that if you point things like this out, your friend will be rightfully embarrassed at its absurdity.
I mean I think it's probable that they don't know what their claims are based on.

They know OMG SIXTEENTH AMENDMENT NOT RATIFIED. They don't know because Arkansas didn't capitalize the letter 's'.
posted by Flunkie at 9:03 PM on April 27, 2009


Idiot Legal Arguments: A Casebook for Dealing with Extremist Legal Arguments
posted by mrbill at 9:54 PM on April 27, 2009


There is an argument, and it appears that it might not be without merit, that the definition of income was never intended to mean wages, but rather that it meant interest from investments. I don't recall the citation, but I remember it having considerably less nut-job-ness to it.

Nevertheless, the current definition does indeed include wages. Railing about how it didn't (or might not have) doesn't help anything.
posted by _Skull_ at 10:35 AM on April 28, 2009


When you think of laws, you mostly think about laws that prohibit murder and theft. But regulations that, well, regulate, are passed into law. Your friend may be fired up and want to take on the Federal Government, and maybe your friend is prepared to deal with the consequences. The consequences are pretty likely.
posted by theora55 at 11:00 AM on April 28, 2009


Interesting... while driving into work this morning, I heard on the radio (and not right-wing talk radio, either; it was a caller phoning in to one of the local NPR talk shows in L.A.) what might be the latest anti-tax talking point: since the Minnesota senate election between Franken and Coleman is still being contested, being taxed in 2009 is illegal because OMG TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION IS TYRANNY.
posted by scody at 11:06 AM on April 28, 2009


There is an argument, and it appears that it might not be without merit, that the definition of income was never intended to mean wages, but rather that it meant interest from investments.
That's ahistorical. For example, see this NY Times article, from the day before the 16th Amendment was ratified. It explicitly gives the following example:

"President-elect Woodrow Wilson will be the first President to pay such a tax. On the basis of a tax collection of 1 per cent, he would be required to pay an income tax of $700 annually on the present Presidential salary of $75,000 a year."

Other examples are also given, based upon various peoples' salaries.

Lots of other articles from this time frame can also be found which make it clear that the proposed tax was understood to be on money including salaries.
posted by Flunkie at 3:13 PM on May 2, 2009


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