Section 1985, race, IRS, tea party, political motivation, conspiracy, Ku Klux Klan


The recent scandal involving the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative Tea Party groups highlights the need for a judicial remedy to politically motivated deprivations of legally recognized rights. Section 2 of the Ku Klux Klan Act, codified as 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), presents such a remedy.

However, it is unclear whether the statute applies to conspiracies motivated solely by political animus. The U.S. Supreme Court in Griffin v. Breckenridge and United Brotherhood of Carpenters Local 610 v. Scott delved into the question but chose not to resolve the issue. Based on the Court’s discussion of the statute’s legislative history in Griffin and Scott, eight of the eleven federal circuit courts to address the issue now require racial animus to motivate conspiracies against politically defined classes. Two circuits maintain their pre-Scott application of § 1985(3) conspiracies motivated by political party affiliation. After Scott, the Second Circuit applies the racial animus requirement to politically motivated conspiracies against members of classes defined by common actions or commonly held beliefs, but it has yet to decide whether its pre-Scott application of § 1985(3) to political affiliation motivated conspiracies remains valid. The district courts within the Second Circuit have articulated different approaches to applying Second Circuit precedent to political affiliation animus cases.

This Note describes the holdings of the Second Circuit in the context of the greater circuit split and examines the approaches taken by the district courts within the Second Circuit. This Note concludes that the Second Circuit could resolve the confusion among its district courts by extending § 1985(3) to conspiracies motivated solely by political party affiliation but by requiring racial animus for all other politically motivated conspiracies. This would remain consistent with the legislative history, historical context, and Supreme Court interpretation of the Ku Klux Klan Act.