The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing arguments Tuesday on City of San Jose v. Commissioner of Baseball — or rather, on a key part of the city's case that focuses on Major League Baseball's exemption from federal antitrust law.
San Jose officials filed the suit last year in an attempt to force major league owners to let the Oakland A's relocate to the South Bay. That move has been blocked for five years by the San Francisco Giants, the franchise that holds baseball's territorial rights to San Jose and the rest of Santa Clara County.
Today's action is an appeal of a lower court's dismissal of most of San Jose's case. A three-judge panel will hear about 20 minutes of oral argument from each side. The judges aren't expected to issue a ruling until sometime this fall, and either side might appeal their decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Tuesday's proceedings will be streamed live here.
In advance of the hearing, I spoke with Nathaniel Grow, a law professor at the University of Georgia who specializes in sports law and has written a book on the 1922 Supreme Court ruling that has protected the major leagues from antitrust actions in the past. Grow says the law is not on San Jose's side.
"You've got not only three Supreme Court decisions that are binding precedents, but the 9th Circuit has their own binding precedent from the 1970s, saying that this very same issue, relocation of franchises, is covered by baseball's antitrust exemption. San Jose has to get out of that and come up with some way to convince the judges on the 9th Circuit to ignore all that and rule in their favor. Whereas Major League Baseball's case is much cleaner. All they have to do is say, 'Look, this is what the law is, this is how it applies' -- there really isn't a lot of discretion for the appellate court to exercise its judgment here."