Caligula, the notorious Roman emperor, posted the tax laws in fine print and so high that citizens could not read them.
"How can citizens comply with what they can't see?" the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal said in comparing the short-lived emperor to the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service. "And how can anyone assess the tax collector's exercise of power in that setting?"
Reversing a tax court decision, the federal appeals court upbraided the IRS commissioner for penalizing taxpayers for their contributions to Roth IRA's. The contributions were designed to avoid taxes within the scope of the law at the time, but the commissioner "recharacterized" the transactions to extract more tax dollars.
"As it turns out, the Commissioner does not have such sweeping authority," Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote for the unanimous court. "And neither do we."