Sen. Dick Durbin: Senate Judiciary Committee to hold hearing on baseball’s antitrust exemption
Major League Baseball, exempt from antitrust laws for nearly 100 years, has led to “an attitude of many of these baseball clubs that they are above the law,” Durbin said.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, on Friday said he will hold a hearing on Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption this spring, with the 99-day lockout triggering new questions about the break.
The roots of this story goes back to a Chicago federal courtroom.
Before Kenesaw Mountain Landis became the first commissioner of organized baseball, he was a Chicago-based federal district court judge in the Northern District of Illinois.
In 1915, Landis presided over the first case testing whether federal antitrust laws applied to professional baseball teams. The Federal League of Professional Clubs sued the rival American and National leagues, claiming the industry monopoly they had was illegal.
Landis put off ruling on that case, and it was eventually settled.
But it did set the stage for the Supreme Court to unanimously rule – on May 29, 1922 – that the business of Major League Baseball was exempt from the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, absurdly asserting the sport did not engage in “interstate commerce.”
Through the years, Congress at various times has taken unsuccessful stabs at yanking or weakening that exemption, particularly after the 1994-1995 baseball strike.
Now, almost 100 years later, the latest baseball strife has sparked new scrutiny from Durbin.
I asked Durbin about MLB and its antitrust exemption in a call he had with Illinois reporters on Friday. In reply, Durbin said he will hold a hearing on the matter this spring.
“Major League Baseball has enjoyed an unusual, unique legal status in America for almost 100 years The courts decided that they will not be treated like any other business in America,” Durbin said.
“And they also decided, and this is hard to even say with a straight face, that Major League Baseball is not interstate commerce. For goodness sakes. Anybody who follows a baseball team knows that they move from state to state to play, collect money at the gate. It is an interstate business for sure.
“But they have enjoyed this status, and they’ve been exempt from the antitrust laws in the United States for a century. I think that has led to (an) attitude of many of these baseball clubs that they are above the law.”
In the wake of the lockout, Durbin said, “I think it’s way over time for us to have a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on this issue. I’m anxious to hear Major League Baseball rationalize their legal status today with this decision of 100 years ago.
“And the net result of that, of course, is that they have power within their companies to do things that other corporations can’t even consider.”
I asked Durbin if he talked to the White Sox and Cubs honchos - Jerry Reinsdorf or any of the Ricketts.
“They are my friends. I enjoy watching baseball at their parks. But I still have responsibility as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman to ask the important legal questions, and this is one of them.”
Durbin added, “I certainly want their side of the story to be accurately presented before the committee.”
He noted that Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has a pending bill to eliminate baseball’s antitrust exemption.
Durbin said he does not yet have a position on revoking the antitrust immunity the MLB enjoys.
Every time baseball’s antitrust break has been challenged, Durbin said, “the courts have said at the highest levels, it’s up to Congress, Congress has to decide, ‘Is this going to change?”’
Said Durbin, “Well, we’ll start the Senate Judiciary Committee, where I happen to be a member. So I think that’s a good thing to do.”