San Jose Shut Out Again in Oakland A's Court Fight

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The Oakland A's at their current home, Coliseum. ((Kwong Yee Cheng/Flickr)

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected the city of San Jose's antitrust lawsuit against Major League Baseball, an action filed as part of the city's long-running effort to become the new home of the Oakland A's.

San Jose sued MLB in 2013, saying team owners had violated federal antitrust law by effectively blocking an A's move to the South Bay. The San Francisco Giants hold territorial rights to the region, ceded to them by Athletics' owners in the 1990s, and have refused to allow the move.

The city's lawsuit is focused mostly on what the U.S. Supreme Court has termed "an established aberration" in its past rulings -- one that exempts Major League Baseball from antitrust law. That exemption was sanctified by a 1922 decision written by Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, which essentially found that baseball was exempt from antitrust restrictions that applied to other interstate commerce because it was a game, not a business.

In a landmark 1971 decision, Flood v. Kuhn, the Supreme Court declined to upset the precedent, commenting that it was up to Congress to change the sport's antitrust status.


But in an opinion written by Judge Alex Kozinski, a 9th Circuit panel said the city is asking for relief -- a reversal of nearly a century of congressional deliberation and legal precedent -- that it has no power to grant.

In what's bound to be one of the most widely quoted passages from the 9th Circuit, Kozinski concluded his discussion of the city's case by writing:

Like Casey, San Jose has struck out here. The scope of the Supreme Court’s holding in Flood plainly extends to questions of franchise relocation. San Jose is, at bottom, asking us to deem Flood wrongly decided, and that we cannot do. Only Congress and the Supreme Court are empowered to question Flood’s continued vitality, and with it, the fate of baseball’s singular and historic exemption from the antitrust laws.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, a strong supporter of bringing the A's to a downtown stadium, said the city will try to get the Supreme Court to take the case.

When the City Council decided to pursue this lawsuit, we knew that success would likely require a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, because only the Supreme Court can revisit its century-old decision that created an anti-trust exemption that no American industry other than Major League Baseball enjoys. San Jose should be allowed to compete with other cities for major league teams, and I expect the U.S. Supreme Court to affirm the nation’s fundamental predisposition toward fair and free competition.

Since taxpayers do not have to foot the bill for this litigation [undertaken on a contingency basis by attorney Joseph Cotchett], San Jose has nothing but upside to continue to pursue this to the Supreme Court, as a successful result will enable a half-billion dollar, privately-financed stadium in the heart of our city. A privately-funded stadium would also bring millions of dollars of tax revenues to help our City pay for more police officers, road repairs, libraries, and other critical services.

Here's Judge Kozinski's ruling in its entirey: