An antitrust lawsuit filed by the city of San Jose against Major
League Baseball in 2013 began its expected final chapter last week with the city's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The city asked the high court to overturn an exemption from
antitrust laws it granted to professional baseball in 1922.
"The exemption is causing ever-increasing harm to baseball fans
and their local communities," the city's lawyers wrote in a petition for hearing.
"The time has come to put an end to baseball's court-created
antitrust exemption, or at the very least to confine the exemption to its original context," the petition says.
San Jose's lawsuit claims MLB violated antitrust laws by allegedly
delaying and blocking a possible move by the Oakland A's to San Jose.
The lawsuit was dismissed in 2013 by a federal trial judge in San
Jose and in January of this year by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Both courts said they were bound by the U.S. Supreme Court's 1922 decision and two later rulings reaffirming that precedent in 1953 and 1972. In February, the San Jose City Council voted to appeal to the high court.
Because only the Supreme Court or Congress can change the
precedent, San Jose was forced in its lower court arguments to avoid attacking the exemption directly and instead to contend it should be interpreted narrowly in a way that did not apply to the city's claims.
In Wednesday's petition, by contrast, the city directly asks the
court to abolish the exemption.
"When we filed the lawsuit, we said it would be up to the Supreme Court to decide this case," said lead attorney Philip Gregory.
"We are extremely optimistic. We believe that if the court
decides to take this case up, it will conclude that baseball should be subject to the antitrust laws like any other professional sport," he said.
As a fallback position, the petition asks the court to clarify the
scope of the exemption if it does not overturn it.
The petition argues that MLB is applying the antitrust exemption
far more broadly -- for example to broadcast and digital media rights - than the court could have envisioned when it decided in 1922 that "the business of baseball" was not governed by federal antitrust laws because it was not part of interstate commerce, as then defined.
In today's world, "an antitrust exemption for 'the business of
baseball' threatens to become boundless, encompassing every aspect of the economy baseball touches," the petition argues.
Michael Teevan, New York-based MLB's vice president for public
relations, said the club had no comment on the appeal.