Tax Shelters and Statutory Interpretation: A Much Needed Purposive Approach

76 Pages Posted: 15 Apr 2008 Last revised: 4 Oct 2012

Date Written: August 28, 2012


Few are unaware that the Tax Code and Regulations provide a detailed, complex (and lengthy) set of rules. It is hardly surprising (or new) that taxpayers attempt to avoid these rules to lower their taxes. Courts and lawmakers have long grappled to identify abusive transactions and strip taxpayers of the associated tax savings. The transactions have, however, changed dramatically over the last decade making the task much more challenging. The rapid proliferation of aggressive and diverse tax shelters has created what many refer to as a tax shelter war. In general, tax shelters refer to transactions carefully designed to fit within the letter of the law to derive benefits unintended by those sections. Courts, however, do not inquire directly into purpose when analyzing tax shelters but instead rely on traditional anti-abuse tests. These tests are outdated and insufficient to curb current tax shelters. Even those that defend these tests admit that they supply neither a necessary nor sufficient basis for denying tax benefits. Scholars defend the usage of these tests believing a viable alternative to be lacking. This Article attempts to fill this gap and develops an alternative test, which inquires directly into the purposes of the tax laws to address abuse directly. After developing this test along with an extensive set of guidelines for analyzing tax provisions, the test is applied to three recent tax shelters to illustrate its advantages. Such a test is an essential weapon to compete in current and future tax shelter wars.

Keywords: tax shelter, tax shelters, statutory interpretation, purposive, Compaq, Black & Decker, Coltec, ACM, abusive, legislative intent

JEL Classification: H2, H25, H26

Suggested Citation

McCormack, Shannon Weeks, Tax Shelters and Statutory Interpretation: A Much Needed Purposive Approach (August 28, 2012). University of Illinois Law Review, Vol. 2009, No. 3, 2009, Available at SSRN:

Shannon Weeks McCormack (Contact Author)

University of Washington School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98105-3020
United States


Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics