Paul L. Caron

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Crane Reviews Abreu & Greenstein's Tax Is Different, Not Exceptional

Jotwell (Tax) (2016)Charlotte Crane (Northwestern), Situating the Tax Law: Exceptions, Not Exceptionalism (JOTWELL) (reviewing Alice Abreu (Temple) & Richard Greenstein (Temple), Tax: Different, Not Exceptional, 71 Admin L. Rev. 663 (2019) (reviewed by Hayes Holderness (Richmond) here)):

Level-headed approaches are rare in discussions of how the administration of tax law should fit into the larger body of administrative law. Alice Abreu and Richard Greenstein’s Tax: Different, Not Exceptional is one of those rare exceptions. All too often, advocates have portrayed the question as having an all or nothing answer, coded as whether tax is “exceptional.” If yes, then the norms of administrative law don’t apply; if no, then they all apply. (And, for many, if these norms all apply, the vast bulk of the work product of the Treasury and the IRS is tainted and should be questioned by the courts.) Abreu and Greenstein persuasively point out that this approach is simply useless.

Careful observers should always have appreciated that neither position is supported by the existing statutory framework. For some aspects of tax administration, there are exceptions in the Administrative Procedure Act itself, and additional exceptions are provided in other titles of the United States Code. But as Abreu and Greenstein point out with reference to Sorites Paradox, a heap of exceptions is often only just that, a heap of discrete exceptions. Even if each of those exceptions is well-founded, they do not necessarily mean anything about the other items that could be removed from the pile, or even about the nature of the pile itself. The questions that remain, given this reality, relate to how these discrete exceptions should be interpreted, and whether these exceptions have any implications for items not covered by their specifics. Tax: Different should go a long way toward establishing this approach to answering these administrative law questions.

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