San Jose appeals MLB antitrust exemption to U.S. Supreme Court 

click to enlarge O.co Coliseum
  • Aaron Kehoe/2013 AP File Photo
  • San Jose's antitrust lawsuit against MLB in trying to bring the A's to San Jose and leave O.co Coliseum in Oakland is expected to have it's final chapter Thursday, when the appeal reaches the U.S. Supreme Court.
An antitrust lawsuit filed by the city of San Jose against Major League Baseball in 2013 began its expected final chapter today 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 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,” lead attorney Philip Gregory said.

“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 the exception.

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.

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