Controlling Forum Choice and Controlling Policy: Congress, Courts and the IRS



Considerable scholarly attention has been paid to litigation and its influence on social and bureaucratic policy. One area of research has focused on interest group litigation. Another area of scholarship has shown that Congress encourages individual use of the courts to monitor and control bureaucratic behavior. In several areas of law, litigants have a choice of forum by deliberate legislative design, which is sometimes derided as “forum shopping.” Little attention has been paid to the dominant national political coalition's ability to encourage forum shopping through legislation and the appointment process. One area of law that the coalition can encourage forum shopping is in challenging tax audits. It can do so through implict legislative signals and the appointment process to influence litigants to sue the Internal Revenue Service in the forum that offers the litigant the greatest chance of success. Given the prominent role of courts in setting and determining policy and given the particular prominence of taxes and tax policy over the past three decades, whether and where tax litigants choose to sue is critically important to understanding the dynamics of both tax policy and tax enforcement, as well as public policy creation and change. To demonstrate the influence of political forces on tax forum choice, I compare tax and district court filings from 1994 through to 2000. I find that as the Tax Court and national political coalition become more conservative, more taxpayers sue in the Tax Court and this “forum shopping” choice is supported by the national political coalition.