On November 20, 2019 Chief Judge Maurice Foley of the U.S. Tax Court delivered this year’s Fogel Lecture at Temple Law school, which he dubbed “Pathways and Pitfalls, A Candid Discussion of My Path to the Bench.” Before becoming the first African American appointed to the United States Tax Court in 1995, Judge Foley was an attorney for the Legislation and Regulations Division of the Internal Revenue Service, Tax Counsel for the United States Senate Committee on Finance, and Deputy Tax Legislative Counsel in the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Tax Policy. Below is a narrative summary of Judge Foley’s lecture.
While driving to a friend’s house for dinner one evening, Maurice Foley tried to explain to his nine-year-old son what he did for a living. However, something got lost in translation. When later asked what his father does, the child responded, confidently, “he is a taxi driver.”
Maurice Foley is not a taxi driver. He is a tax attorney. In fact, his proper title is Chief Judge Maurice Foley of the U.S. Tax Court.
As distinguished as his career in public service has been, Judge Foley’s pathway to the bench was far from standard. How can a guy who nearly got kicked out of college and dreamed of working with entertainers in L.A. end up as Chief Judge of the U.S. Tax Court?
Judge Foley attended a large public high school in northern California. After working hard in school, he was accepted at Swarthmore College. Shortly after arriving at Swarthmore, he realized how unprepared he was, as compared to his classmates, for the rigors of college. Threatening expulsion, Swarthmore instead suspended Judge Foley, giving him one semester to get his act together.
Instead of traveling home to California, a young Judge Foley traveled 45 miles up the road to study for a semester at Temple University. At Temple, Judge Foley earned what he calls a GGM – a certificate in “Grit, Grind, and Moxy.” Though you won’t find his GGM listed on his resume, it is this credential to which he attributes most of his success.
What changed for Judge Foley while at Temple? Well, he was hit by a bus. No, that is not an analogy for some ethereal epiphany he had. He was literally hit by a bus. However, while lying in a bed at Jefferson Hospital, Judge Foley realized the opportunities he had been given to turn his life around and resolved to not squander them. Not only had Swarthmore given him a second chance against the odds, but he had been hit by a bus … carrying twenty nurses. He got the message – he had work to do.
After leaving the hospital, Judge Foley spent every waking moment studying. While he does not recommend this for everyone, it was what he needed to do to get back on track. He gave himself 25 minutes for breakfast, 25 minutes for dinner, and spent every other conscious moment studying in the library. Judge Foley even secured a job changing light bulbs in the library after-hours. The 15 minutes he spent sprinting around the library changing light bulbs on Saturday evenings earned him a key to the building, which he could use anytime.
With a GGM from Temple, Judge Foley returned to Swarthmore. There, as for so many of us, it was an outstanding professor that first sparked Judge Foley’s interest in what would ultimately become his career – tax law and public policy. From this professor, Judge Foley first learned that the government, through tax policy, can influence human behavior. He learned the government could use the tax code to provide income support, incentivize investment, redistribute or preserve wealth, reward certain constituencies and punish others. Judge Foley left that lecture set on a path that he would follow for the rest of his life – he realized that the tax system was not only the nexus between the political and economic regimes, but also a mechanism he could use to help serve the disenfranchised communities to whom he felt connected.
After graduating from Swarthmore, Judge Foley traveled back across the country to attend law school at Berkeley, where he says he was forced to suffer through crim law, con law, civil procedure, and the other first-year classes before they let him take tax law classes in his second year.
At Berkeley, Judge Foley came up with his life plan; he was going to do tax planning for athletes and entertainers, designing their charitable foundations and exempt organizations so they could have the maximum impact on the communities they served.
With that goal in mind, Judge Foley thought it would be best to first get experience working in the code itself, architecting tax regulations. He accepted a job in the Legislation and Regulations Division of the Chief Counsels Office for the Internal Revenue Service.
After a few years at the IRS, Judge Foley decided it was time to transition into what would be his long-term career – tax planning for athletes and entertainers. While working on his resume as a part of a plan to move to Los Angeles, the Chief Tax Counsel from the Senate Finance Committee asked him to interview for a job. In that position, Judge Foley would get to spread out instead of focusing on just one section of the tax code, as he did at the IRS. He would get the opportunity to work on what he enjoyed, the nexus between economics and politics – debating and drafting tax legislation. So, instead of traveling 3,000 miles to Los Angeles, Judge Foley went just a mile down Pennsylvania Avenue from the IRS building to Capitol Hill.
After spending a few years working on his favorite tax policies, it finally seemed time for him to fulfill his life-long goal and become a tax attorney for athletes and entertainers. However, right about the time Judge Foley was getting ready to leave Capitol Hill, President Clinton was elected. Judge Foley’s employer at the time, Senator Bentsen, was the new President’s pick for Secretary of the Treasury. Senator Bentsen asked Judge Foley to come with him to the Treasury Department as the Deputy Tax Legislative Counsel for Legislation. At the Treasury Department he would get the opportunity to work at the highest level of the tax policy debate. He couldn’t refuse.
So, once again, instead of traveling 3,000 miles to Los Angeles, Judge Foley went just a few miles down the road, from Capitol Hill to the Department of the Treasury. While at the Treasury, Judge Foley worked directly with President Clinton, Vice President Gore, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Secretary of Labor to fulfill a campaign promise of President Clinton’s – reforming welfare through the tax code.
Judge Foley was just thirty-four years old when he was presented with the opportunity to join the Tax Court as a judge in 1995. At first he resisted the temptation. Not only was his third child on the way, but he was, at long last, about to transition out of government to become a tax attorney for athletes and entertainers. However, after being convinced that this opportunity may not come again, Judge Foley agreed, and joined the Tax Court.
Twenty-five years later, it seems Judge Foley may never live out his dream of becoming a tax attorney for athletes and entertainers. However, it also seems he has never regretted his decision to join the Court. Judge Foley wakes up each morning and travels to work past monuments to those who devoted their lives to justice. That inspiring trip – which I am sure conjures feelings of pride, purpose, and aspiration for the future – is hard to replicate in the gridlock on Interstate 405 outside of Los Angeles.
Besides, while a distracted child may confuse the title “tax attorney” with “taxi driver,” I don’t think Maurice Foley’s current title could result in similar confusion.
Judge Foley’s lecture can be viewed in its entirety at the link below:
The Fall 2019 Fogel Lecture – Watch Online
Andrew LeDonne (LAW ’21) is a student editor for the 10-Q.