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Could Supreme Court take on MLB antitrust exemption?

Coliseum City, OaklandToday marks the opening day of the new U.S. Supreme Court term, and a matter potentially up for consideration is San Jose’s challenge to Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption.

The court decides what cases to take on the first day of the term in a closed-door session. Four out of nine judges must vote to take on a petition before the court, and at issue here is San Jose’s challenge to MLB’s antitrust exemption. Since a 1922 case the official national legal policy toward MLB is that it is a game and not a business, exempting the sport from the Sherman Antitrust Act. That ruling has been upheld by subsequent courts and Congress as well, despite judges and members of Congress recognizing the status is an anomaly. Many plaintiffs and legal observers have urged the courts to overrule the antitrust exemption, but it still holds up: San Jose made it the cornerstone of their lawsuit against Major League Baseball in an attempt to bring the Oakland Athletics to town, but two courts, including the three-judge 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, declined to strike it down, saying that the precedent held and that Congress has never seen fit to address it. Given the big issues facing Congress in coming weeks — a change in Republican House leadership, a potential government shutdown spurred by a challenge to Planned Parenthood funding — it’s highly unlikely Congress will address the issue any time soon.

And it sounds like most legal experts say it’s unlikely the Supreme Court will address it this term, as well. From the San Jose Mercury News:

The Supreme Court appeal appears to be San Jose’s last flickering hope to jump start its effort to bring the A’s to the South Bay, in part resting on the prospect that baseball’s owners might be more inclined to move on the issue if threatened with the loss of the antitrust protections.

San Jose sued baseball more than three years ago, claiming the league interfered with its business deal with the A’s to build a downtown San Jose ballpark. The San Francisco Giants have blocked the A’s move, asserting territorial rights to the South Bay, and MLB has balked at upending those rights through a vote of league owners.

A’s owner Lew Wolff had pushed for a San Jose deal but has more recently focused on finding a way to build a new ballpark in Oakland. He also has not supported San Jose’s decision to take the issue to court.

So far MLB has not backed down from any San Jose legal challenges.

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