Tax Court

Tax Court in the United States

United States Tax Court

A specialized judicial agency that hears disputes concerning decisions of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The United States Tax Court was established in 1924 as an agency of the executive branch. It was originally called the United States Board of Tax Appeals. Its name and status as an Article I court of record was changed in 1969. The Tax Court has jurisdiction in under- or over-payments of income, gift, and estate tax and holding company surtax cases following rulings made by the IRS. In 1969, the court was given jurisdiction to redetermine excise taxes and penalties. In 1974, the court was granted power to render declaratory judgments relating to retirement plans. The court is composed of 16 judges, but frequently utilizes senior judges and special trial judges who may be assigned at the court’s discretion. Judges are appointed by the president and serve staggered 15-year terms. The court is located in Washington, D.C., but conducts its business throughout the United States. (1)

Analysis and Relevance

The United States Tax Court was designed to provide a means of appealing IRS decisions more effectively. Prior to 1969, this court functioned as an administrative agency, but the Tax Reform Act designated the agency an Article I legislative court. The court relieves the district courts from the large number of suits resulting from administration of the tax code. The court is empowered to handle “small” tax claims of under $5,000 through an informal hearing process that expedites disposition of such cases. Except for small tax cases, the decisions of the court are subject to review by the court of appeals. Decisions in the smaller cases do not set legal precedents and cannot be appealed. (2)

Legal Materials

The United States Tax Court is the main court for trying disputes between taxpayers and the IRS, although some cases go to other trial courts. You can get contact information, forms, etc. from the Tax Court Web site (

Docket Sheets: U.S. Tax Court docket sheets are available free on the Court’s Web site See also the commercial services discussed in the Docket Sheets entry.

Filings: Westlaw has a database (FTX-TCBRIEF) of selected briefs and petitions from the U.S. Tax Court and selected complaints from the U.S. District Courts and the Court of Federal Claims back to 1992.

Opinions: Tax Court Opinions since September 25, 1995, including Memorandum opinions, are posted on the Court Web site. You can search Tax Court opinions free on Google Scholar.

For better searching, nicer printouts and/or more historical depth, use Westlaw (FTX-TCT), Lexis (FEDTAX;TC), Tax Analysts’ Federal Research Library, CCH Intelliconnect or Westlaw Tax. Note: The Westlaw database includes decisions of the Board of Tax Appeal, the predecessor to the current Tax Court, while Lexis has a separate database for BTA decisions (FEDTAX;BTA).

Tax Court Summary Opinions are posted back to January 1, 2001. Call the Tax Court Library to get copies of older opinions (202-521-4587).

Rules: The U.S. Tax Court Rules of Practice and Procedure are posted free on the Court Web site. Annotated versions are published in the United States Code Annotated(following Title 26, Section 7453) and in the CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter. For more information, see the Federal Court Rules entry in this legal Encyclopedia.

For truly tough questions about Tax Court materials, call the Call the Tax Court Library at 202-521-4587.

Tax Court of the United States

Acting under its power to tax, Congress created the United States Tax Court in 1969 as “an independent judicial body” in the legislative branch. It is not, in fact, a part of the federal court system (Article I, Section 8, Clause 1 of the Constitution). The Tax Court has 19 judges, one of whom serves as chief judge. Each of these 19 judges is named by the President and the Senate for a 15-year term. The Tax Court hears civil but not criminal cases involving disputes over the application of the tax laws. Most of its cases, then, are generated by the Internal Revenue Service and other Treasury Department agencies. Its decisions may be appealed to the federal courts of appeals.

The offices of the court and its judges are in Washington, DC. However, the court has national jurisdiction and schedules trial sessions in more than 70 cities in the United States. Each trial session is conducted by one judge, senior judge, or special trial judge. Court proceedings are open to the public and are conducted in accordance with the court’s rules of practice and procedure and the rules of evidence applicable in trials without a jury in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. A fee of $60 is charged for the filing of a petition. Practice before the court is limited to practitioners admitted under the court’s rules of practice and procedure.

Decisions entered by the court, other than decisions in small tax cases, may be appealed to the regional courts of appeals and, thereafter, upon the granting of a writ of certiorari, to the Supreme Court of the United States. At the option of petitioners, simplified procedures may be used in small tax cases. Small tax cases are final and not subject to review by any court.

According to the Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, when the Internal Revenue Service determines a deficiency, a taxpayer who disagrees can either pay the additional tax and sue for a refund in a federal district court or withhold payment and petition the Tax Court to set aside the deficiency. Tax Court decisions may follow.


Notes and References

  1. Definition of United States Tax Court from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California
  2. Id.

See Also

Legislative Court (Judicial Organization)
Specialized Court (Judicial Organization)
Board of Tax Appeals
Case Pulls
Court Clerks / Court Houses
Docket Sheets
Federal Court Rules
Jury Instructions
United States Courts, generally

Further Reading



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