I am often asked, “Why do you always assume that the courts are right and the tax protesters are wrong?” Or, “Couldn’t the courts be wrong about what the Constitution means?” Those questions demonstrate that the questioner doesn’t really understand what is meant by “law” or the “rule of law.”
Law is not some kind of abstraction that floats in the air, free from any connection to people or events. “The law” is what legislatures, courts, and governments do, and the real test of what the law “is” shows in how the law is applied in actual cases.
So when lawyers talk about what “the law” is, they are talking about how a judge will rule. Not how the judge should rule, or might rule, but will rule. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once explained, “the only definition of law for a lawyer’s purposes is something which the Court will enforce.” Letter to Sir Frederick Pollock, 7/3/1874. Or, more famously: “The prophecies of what the courts will do in fact and nothing more pretentious are what I mean by the law.” The Paths of the Law (1897).
The process of law is also a process of consensus. We have a variety of procedures, some political, some judicial, and some bureaucratic, for determining what the law should be and how it should be applied. If we don’t like the results, we have ways of changing the results and, when there are conflicts, we have ways of resolving conflicts. However, when the courts, the legislatures, and the voters all agree on what the law is, then that is what the law is. The fact that some people believe that the law should be different that what courts have said it is doesn’t mean that the law is different from what the courts have said, but only that they should argue their positions within the political system and attempt to change the results.
In the case of the income tax, there is no conflict. The judicial, executive, and legislative branches of our government, and a majority of the voters, have all agreed for more than 90 years that (1) an income tax is constitutional, (2) it applies to wages, and (3) every citizen and resident of every state is required to file a tax return and pay the tax. That is what the law is. There is no question about it.
So this FAQ states what “the law” is, because a judge will rule against the tax protester arguments described in this FAQ 100% of the time. Not 95% of the time, or even 99.999% of the time. 100.00%.
this is mostly true but kind of frightening. my main argument against is that it took scores of suits before Plessy v Ferguson turned into Brown v Board of Education. after 50 years the supreme court suddenly decided that the law said a different thing than it used to say. i don't know what kind of rule of law you can have when the law changes every time a couple new judges are appointed, and it sounds like 'seperate but equal' to me to say your rights depend on which judicial district you live in.