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Income Tax Myths

"The Internal Revenue Code is Not Law."

Some tax protestors like to argue that we can only be taxed by law, not by some mere "code" like the Internal Revenue Code. These protestors are often under the mistaken impression that the Internal Revenue Code was written by the IRS.

Basic Answer

This argument simply reflects ignorance of what the Internal Revenue Code is and where it came from.

The Internal Revenue Code is law. It was passed by the United States Congress. It does not come from the IRS. The IRS writes regulations that help implement the Code, but the Code itself was passed by Congress. Under the Constitution, if a bill is passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President, it is the law. That's what happened with the Internal Revenue Code, so the Code is the law.

The Code is called the "Internal Revenue Code" because that's the name chosen for it by the Congress. (See section 7701(a)(29).) So it does have the word "Code" in its name. But it is, absolutely, law passed by the Congress.

More Detail

Here's some further detail for readers who'd like to know the exact dates and citations for the law:

The Internal Revenue Code wasn't passed all at once. Congress is constantly tinkering with and amending it. The last comprehensive overhaul of the Code occurred on October 22, 1986, when Congress passed Public Law 99-514, entitled "A bill to reform the internal revenue laws of the United States."

There have been many amendments since then, but each amendment was passed by Congress. The current Internal Revenue Code is the result of the original law plus all the amendments over time. But the Code is still made up of laws passed by the Congress. It was not written by the IRS.

Laws passed by Congress can be found in a series of books called the Statutes at Large. If you want to look up the 1986 law, you can find it in Volume 100 of the Statutes at Large, beginning at page 2085.

A more convenient source is Title 26 of the United States Code. The problem with trying to find the law in the Statutes at Large is that, in order to tell whether the part you're reading (say, the 1986 tax law) is still good, current law, you'd have to read the entire Statutes at Large to see whether any later statute repealed or amended it. So you'd have to look through every statute that Congress has passed in the intervening decades. That's not very practical.

Fortunately, someone else has done that for you. The Office of the Law Revision Counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives compiles the Statutes at Large into a more usable source known as the United States Code. Whenever Congress passes a law that amends an already existing law (such as the income tax law), the Revisers strike out the old, obsolete portion and replace it with the new portion. That way, the U.S. Code always reflects the most current law.

But in any event, it's still the law as passed by the United States Congress. The Revisers have just compiled it into a more convenient, usable form.

Still More Detail

Some confusion may result from the fact that some Titles in the United States Code (but not Title 26) have been enacted as "positive law." In published editions of the U.S. Code, these titles are marked with an asterisk, and Title 26 is not one of them.

All this means is that, for some Titles, Congress, usually after many years of tinkering with and amending the Title, decided to pass one, single statute embodying all the law in the entire Title. When this is done, that one law in the Statutes at Large can also be used as a Title of the U.S. Code (until it gets amended again).

Congress never did this for Title 26. Title 26 is the compiled result of many separate statutes passed over a period of decades.

But that doesn't matter. Title 26 is still a compilation of the law as passed by the Congress. Law created by many statutes over time is still law.

For even more detail on this last point, see here.