Many readers may remember the story of Z Street. Perhaps the smallest and least funded organization involved in the IRS Scandal Z Street, a Zionist rather than a Teaparty group, which sued the IRS before Lois Lerner admitted the bias, may turn out to be the group that blows the cover off the entire scandal.The pro-Israel organization Z Street has been in court to redress the violation of its Constitutional rights by the Internal Revenue Service since August 2010. While not a Teaparty organization, Z Street’s 501(c)(3) application was held up for the same reason, that they disagreed with President Obama’s policy.
Z Street was created as a non-profit organization with the purpose of “educating the public about Zionism; about the facts relating to the Middle East and to the existence of Israel as a Jewish State; and about Israel’s right to refuse to negotiate with, make concessions to, or appease terrorists.”
Despite the fact that the Obama administration is no longer in office, career DOJ attorneys are still fighting tooth and nail to kill the Z Street law suit.
The Op-Ed below written by the Z Street trial attorney appeared in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week. It asks why the Trump-led DOJ is still fighting against the first amendment rights of the group.
Obama IRS Abuse Should Unite Trump and Sessions By Jerome Marcus
President Trump has been feuding this week with Attorney General Jeff Sessions over matters related to last year’s campaign. But here’s an issue on which Messrs. Trump and Sessions should be able to find common ground: The Justice Department should stop defending Obama administration corruption.
I’m referring to the cases, still on file today, challenging or seeking to expose Internal Revenue Service policies that delayed applications for tax-exempt status from conservative groups. That’s viewpoint discrimination, a clear First Amendment violation.
The Obama Justice Department fought these cases intensely. It tried to get them thrown out of court before the plaintiffs had the chance to gather evidence. When that failed, Justice lawyers resisted discovery, to prevent disclosure of documents showing what the Obama administration was really doing.
That’s normal behavior for a defendant in a lawsuit. But since Jan. 20, the Justice Department has reported to Mr. Trump, who denounced each of the corrupt policies at issue in these cases.
So why is the department handling the cases as if it were still run by Eric Holder or Loretta Lynch? Because many of the career lawyers who were put on these cases by Obama Justice Department officials continue working on them, with no supervision from this administration. Those lawyers are still doing now what they have always done: fighting as hard as they can to prevent disclosure of what the Obama IRS, and the rest of the Obama administration, was doing to the country.
In one of these cases, I represent the plaintiff. Z Street is a pro-Israel nonprofit that educates on Zionism and how to oppose terror. It applied in 2009 for tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the tax code. For months, Z Street’s lawyers fielded duplicative IRS requests for information about its board of directors, but after long delays, the IRS hadn’t made a decision on the application. In July 2010 Z Street asked why, and an IRS agent revealed that the applications of many organizations connected to Israel “are being sent to a special unit in the D.C. office to determine whether the organization’s activities contradict the [Obama] administration’s public policies.”
We sued to stop and expose this clear violation of Z Street’s First Amendment rights.
Justice Department lawyers representing the IRS argued that the case should be thrown out even if Z Street was right about its constitutional claim because a statute allowed the organization to sue in court for tax-exempt status nine months after its application date. In 2015 the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected that position by a 3-0 vote. During oral argument, Chief Judge Merrick Garland observed that the department’s position would mean “the government is free to constitutionally discriminate against its citizens for 270 days.”
Since then we’ve been in discovery, and Justice has been fighting to prevent Z Street from learning how the IRS policy was formed, by whom, and at whose direction. The IRS finally granted Z Street its tax-exempt status last year, after the D.C. Circuit made clear that was a necessary condition for throwing out the case.
Other important cases are in the same posture. A class action is pending in Ohio brought by many other nonprofits victimized by policies similar to the one that delayed Z Street’s application by over six years. Judicial Watch is suing to force the IRS to release information on its Obama-era policies of viewpoint discrimination. And the problem isn’t limited to the IRS. Judicial Watch has also sued the State Department seeking release of Hillary Clinton’s emails and document-retention policies.
The government lawyers in all these cases are working hard to prevent anyone from finding out what the Obama administration was doing. Cleta Mitchell, who has represented tea-party organizations in the IRS viewpoint-targeting scandal, says Justice Department lawyers “have been stalling, obfuscating and doing all they can in these cases to avoid holding the IRS accountable.”
That’s true even though all these lawyers now work for President Trump. And it’s true even though Mr. Trump knows full well that the Obama IRS violated the Constitution by discriminating against opposing viewpoints, and that the Obama State Department wrongfully shielded Mrs. Clinton’s emails from public view.
Messrs. Trump and Sessions, as well as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, should all be able to agree on this. The executive branch, through the Justice Department, can on its own agree to release the desired information and end these cases, without any permission from Congress or CNN. That would lighten the workload at Justice and shine sunlight on clearly improper Obama policies.
A famous Justice Department lawyer said long ago that “the government wins when justice is done.” Now’s the time for the Department of Justice to do justice.
Mr. Marcus is a Philadelphia lawyer.