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Pritzker Legal Research Center

Tax Law Research Resources

This guide covers the primary and secondary sources used for researching federal tax law

Introduction: Which Court?

When the IRS determines that there is a tax deficiency the taxpayer has the option of having their case heard in either the United States Tax Court ("Tax Court"), the United States District Court, or in the United States Court of Federal Claims. Typically, most taxpayers have their case heard in Tax Court because the taxpayer is not required to pay the deficiency prior to having their case heard. In both the District Court and Court of Federal Claims, the taxpayer has to pay the deficiency first and then go before these courts to sue for a refund. The District Court is the only court where the taxpayer has the right to a jury trial. The decisions made in either court is appealable to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court is the court of last resort. What follows is a brief explanation of each court and where to find opinions issued by these courts. 

Additionally, the United States Bankruptcy Courts also issue substantive tax rulings where a Bankruptcy case involves tax disputes. These cases are appealed to the Bankruptcy Appellate Panels or Courts of Appeals. 

United States Tax Court

The Tax Court is a "court of record" pursuant to Article I of the Constitution, and it is a specialized court that exclusively hears tax controversies. The Tax Court has jurisdiction to redetermine deficiencies and overpayment in income, gift or estate taxes, and certain excise taxes of private foundations and foundation managers. I.R.C. §6213(a). The Tax Court's jurisdiction also includes the authority to redetermine transferee liability, make certain types of declaratory judgments, adjust partnership items, order abatement of interest, award administrative and litigation costs, redetermine worker classification, determine relief from joint and several liability on a joint return, review certain collection actions, and review awards to whistleblowers who provide information to the Commissioner of Internal Revenue on or after December 20, 2006.  The Tax Court has 19 judges, appointed by the president, and is unique in that it is physically located in Washington D.C. but the judges travel to designated cities in the country to hear tax disputes. 

The Tax court issues three types of opinions: 

  • Bench Opinion: where the Tax Court judge issues an oral opinion during the trial session. The Tax Court sends the taxpayer a copy of the transcript reflecting the Judge's opinion within a few weeks after the trial, and the Bench opinion is not considered precedent. 
  • Summary Opinion: this opinion is issued in cases heard in the Small Cases division of the Tax Court, where the Tax Court hears disputes that are less than $50,000. This opinion cannot be relied on as precedent, and the decision cannot be appealed. 
  • Tax Court Opinion or Memorandum Opinion: whether an opinion is an Tax Court (TC) Opinion or Memorandum Opinion is decided by the Chief Judge of the Tax Court. 
    • Memorandum Opinion is issued in a regular case where the law is settled or factually driven. A Memorandum Opinion can be cited as legal authority and the decision can be appealed. 
    • TC Opinion is issued in a regular case where the Tax Court believes there is a sufficiently important legal issue or principle involved. A TC Opinion can be cited as legal authority and the decision can be appealed.

For the Bluebook Rules for Tax Court decisions, please see Table T1.