A federal appeals court conducted an audit of sorts into the credibility of the IRS, which has stonewalled the release of certain information to conservative nonprofits in a class-action lawsuit. What the court found was a massive deficit in the tax agency’s argument.

A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the IRS cannot use a section of the tax code to block release of a list of nonprofit applicants it targeted in 2010. To the contrary, the law “was enacted to protect taxpayers from the IRS, not the IRS from taxpayers,” wrote Judge Raymond Kethledge in the court’s unanimous opinion.

And rather than defend the nation’s interest and enforce its laws, “the conduct of the IRS’ attorneys in the district court falls outside that tradition,” Judge Kethledge wrote.

For years tea party groups have pushed for the release of the full list of targeted groups subjected to questionable IRS scrutiny. An inspector general investigation found hundreds of groups were inappropriately questioned about members’ activities, fundraising and political affiliations. The IRS dismissed this as nothing more than a few overly ambitious employees confused by the law.

The appeals court decision clears the way for the lawsuit by the NorCal Tea Party Patriots to proceed. For the arrogant IRS, this trip to the woodshed is long overdue.

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