The Supreme Court appears to be about to shake off one of its most notorious decisions, Roe v. calf (1973). Sunday marks the centenary of another notorious Supreme Court decision. Federal Baseball vs. National League (1922). Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, who authored the erroneous Roe Opinion, played a key role in preserving the jurisprudential error committed in Federal Baseball in authoring the Court’s Opinion high water Kuhn (1972).
Major League Baseball has long enjoyed a special exemption from US antitrust laws, despite what appears to be a cartel in which 30 owners agree to limit their commercial competition. The cartel was formed in 1876 as the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs. Eight team owners agreed to only play among themselves, denying all other teams entry into the league, and most importantly, acknowledging each other’s exclusive rights over their players via the infamous reserve clause, which gave teams the right to a player after the player’s contract expired . Fans only got the baseball the cartel provided. From 1901 to 1961 there were only 16 teams, divided into the American and National Leagues. Players could either take what the magnates offered or find another job.
Monopoly profits always tempt outsiders to get involved. Invaders challenged the National League with the American Association (1881-91), Union Association (1884), Players’ League (1890). The American League came along in 1901 and survived to form the two-league cartel we’ve had ever since.
The most serious challenge for this setup came from the Bundesliga. In 1914 and 1915, the Bundesliga fielded teams in eight cities. They lured away many major league stars and eroded owners’ profits (the Federal League’s Baltimore Terrapins forced the Baltimore Orioles, then a minor league team, to sell their star, Babe Ruth’s, contract to the Boston Red Sox). Eventually, the facility’s owners paid the Federal League owners to walk away or buy into existing franchises, and that’s how Philip Wrigley came into ownership of the Chicago Cubs. But the Terrapins’ owners, who refused to settle, are suing the American and national leagues for violating antitrust laws.
Congress had enacted the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890, which banned all “combinations restricting trade” in interstate commerce. The Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914 updated it, allowing private plaintiffs like the Terrapins to sue for triple their damages. The ball club won in federal court with $80,000 in damages, which tripled to $240,000. The District of Columbia Court of Appeals reversed the decision, and in 1922 the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously upheld the Court of Appeals.
While Major League Baseball was certainly a business, it did not constitute “trade between the states,” Judge Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in the opinion. Teams constantly crossed state lines to play, but that was incidental to the actual business, which took place in discreet stadiums.
federal baseballThe narrow definition of “interstate commerce” was mainstream in the 1920s. However, after the New Deal constitutional revolution of the 1930s, the court ruled that almost everything Congress wanted to regulate was “interstate commerce.” But the court stood by it federal baseball Decision. In 1953, the Supreme Court refused to overturn the decision when George Toolson, a pitcher in the New York Yankees minor league system, filed an antitrust lawsuit. The court more or less agreed federal baseball had been wrongly ruled, but left it up to Congress to specifically state that antitrust laws apply to baseball.
The final challenge in court federal baseball came from Curt Flood, a star outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, who was suing Commissioner Bowie Kuhn to make him a free agent and void his move to the Philadelphia Phillies. Amid the civil rights movement, Flood argued that the league kept him in a form of servitude, albeit for $90,000 a year.
The Supreme Court confirmed this again federal baseball. Harry Blackmun wrote the report, which reads like a declaration of love for the sport. He began by praising 88 of his favorite players and upheld a lower court decision that emphasized baseball’s distinctive nature as “the national pastime” that is “everyone’s business” at a “higher level” than others. Only two other judges shared Blackmun’s opinion. Three strongly disagreed, and two others agreed with the finding but dismissed its nostalgic preface. Blackmun called this part of the statement his “sentimental journey.” It was an apt expression of the subjective, emotional jurisprudence prevalent in the 1960s and ’70s that reappeared in Roe, particularly in the famously mysterious passage from Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), which states: “At the heart of liberty lies the right to define one’s concept of existence, meaning, the universe, and the mystery of human life.”
Judge Samuel Alito’s leaked draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization calls Roe v. Wade “enormously wrong,” “exceptionally weak,” and based on the story that is “just plain wrong.” As high water Kuhn shows that was Blackmun’s style.
Mr. Moreno, a professor of history at Hillsdale College, is the author of How the Court Became Supreme: The Origins of American Juristocracy, out in September.
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https://www.wsj.com/articles/harry-blackmuns-other-wrong-supreme-court-decision-antitrust-federal-baseball-mlb-justices-11653680973 Harry Blackmun’s Other Wrong Supreme Court Decision