Are Income Taxes Unconstitutional or Illegal?

The United State income tax is a legal tax, and if you meet certain requirements, you must pay income taxes. Learn about the history of the US income tax and tax code here.

The legality of the income tax code has been upheld in court time and time again. But many people still try to avoid paying taxes based on what the IRS calls frivolous tax arguments. Many of these are misinterpretations of laws or of the Constitution.

However, the IRS recognizes that taxpayers have rights regarding their tax situations. For details, review the "IRS Taxpayer Bill of Rights" section. 

Top 5 Unsuccessful Arguments against Income Taxes

So many people try to argue against paying taxes every year and fail. The IRS releases an annual report of frivolous tax arguments, and there are many. We compiled a list of the top 5 most absurd arguments ever put fourth, all of which have been argued in court and have been struck down.

List Item 5 Taxation is taking property, so it is a violation of the 5th Amendment.

Supporters of this claim assert that tax collection is taking of property without the due process of law, which is unconstitutional. They cite the 5th Amendment of the Constitution, which states that no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law".

Why it's frivolous: While the 5th Amendment of the Constitution does protect against unlawful seizure of property, the Constitution itself grants the federal government the power to tax (learn more about the history of taxes, including taxation in the United States). Having the 5th Amendment prohibit taxation would create a contradiction; so therefore, taxation is not considered a violation of the 5th Amendment. Brushaber v. Union Pac RR upheld this. In addition, the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of the Internal Revenue Code in Phillips v. Commissioner in 1931.

List Item 4 Filing an income tax return is voluntary.

Are taxes unconstitutional?

Some people claim that filing an income tax is voluntary because, according to their interpretation, the IRS said so itself. They rely on the fact that the 1040 Form instructions say that filling out the form is voluntary. In addition, they state that the 1960 Supreme Court case Florida v. United States stated that our “system of taxation is based upon voluntary assessment and payment, not upon distraint”. There have been multiple cases that involved this reason for not filing and paying taxes, including United States v. Tedder in 1986 and United States v. Gerrads in 1994.

Why it’s frivolous: It is true that both the Supreme Court Case Florida v. United States and the IRS instruction manual use the word “voluntary”. However, this is used in reference to the ability of the tax payer to calculate and file the appropriate returns instead of having the federal government determine the returns from the start. There is no mention of the income tax return being voluntary anywhere in the IRS tax code.

Learn more about the history of the IRS 1040 Form and see its evolution through time.

List Item 3 Taxation is slavery, and thus a violation of the 13th Amendment.

As mentioned above, taxation is compulsory, not voluntary. Some people claim that compulsory taxation is a form of slavery, and thus illegal. They cite the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery in the United States.

Why it’s frivolous: The 13th Amendment does protect all people in the United States from any form of involuntary servitude or slavery, unless it’s done as a punishment for a crime. However, the courts have repeatedly ruled that taxation does not qualify as involuntary servitude or slavery as banned by the 13th Amendment.

List Item 2 Federal Reserve notes are not income.

Are taxes unfair?

People who advance this argument claim that Federal Reserve notes (those green bills in our wallets) are not real currency because they cannot be exchanged for gold or silver. They bring up Article I Section 10 of the Constitution, which grants the federal government the exclusive power to create and regulate money. More specifically, they claim that Section 10 limits all legal currency exclusively to gold and silver.

Why it’s frivolous: Article I Section 10 does grant exclusive power to Congress and the federal government to create and regulate money, including gold and silver, but there is no explicit or implicit limitation on declaring another form of legal tender. Therefore, Federal Reserve notes are considered income because they are a form of legal tender. Numerous court cases have upheld this notion, including United States v. Riffen.

List Item 1 The United States only consists of the District of Columbia and US territories.

Some contend that the United States only consists of the District of Columbia, federal territories like Guam, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, and various other islands in the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, as well as federal enclaves like military bases and Native American reservations. According to them, anyone outside of that territory is not a resident of the United States and instead a resident of the state that they live in, which according to them is sovereign.

Why it’s frivolous: The United States consists of 50 states as well as District of Columbia, federal territories and federal enclaves. When the Constitution was ratified, it unified the states under a strong federal government, reserving some powers for the states and leaving some for the federal government. It in no way implies the sovereignty of any state. Several court cases, including United States v. Collins and Brushaber v. Union Pacific RR upheld this, both stating that the 16th Amendment gives the federal government the power to tax anywhere that is under the federal umbrella, which includes the 50 states.

IRS Taxpayer Bill of Rights

Do you know that you have rights as a taxpayer? Whether or not you agree with the arguments above, the IRS gives you certain rights regarding your taxes. The IRS provides the following ten rights so they can work with you, not against you:

  1. The Right to be Informed
  2. The Right to Quality Service
  3. The Right to Pay No More than the Correct Amount of Tax
  4. The Right to Challenge the IRS's Position and Be Heard
  5. The Right to Appeal an IRS Decision in an Independent Forum
  6. The Right to Finality
  7. The Right to Privacy
  8. The Right to Confidentially
  9. The Right to Retain Representation
  10. The Right to a Fair and Just Tax System

For more information about your taxpayer rights, review IRS Publication 1, Your Rights as a Taxpayer.


Learn about high-profile tax evasion cases in the United States and from around the world.

Read about unpleasant IRS audit experiences.

Learn about unusual taxes in the United States and around the world.

Detailed overview of the tax history in the United States and the world.

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