Church of Scientology of Cal. v. IRS

484 U. S. 9

November 10, 1987

As part of its decades long war with the IRS, the Church of Scientology filed a Freedom of Information request for a broad swath of IRS returns relating to the church. Under law, many IRS documents, including returns, could not be released if they contained personal identifying information. The Scientologists claimed that these documents could still be turned over so long as the private identifying information was redacted.

In a 6-0 ruling (with Brennan and Scalia not voting), Rehnquist held that the IRS was not required to turn over any of the private documents, with or without redaction. The law at issue said that IRS documents could not be released “in a form” that allowed for identification of individual taxpayers. Rehnquist said this meant that a completely new kind of document would have to be created to release the information. Redaction would still leave the information “in a form” that was supposed to be private. Recourse to the original Congressional debates bolstered his conclusion.

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