Congressman aims to revoke MLB’s antitrust exemption

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FILE – In this Oct. 7, 2018, file photo, ground crews prepare the field at Sun Trust Park, now known as Truist Park, ahead of Game 3 of MLB baseball’s National League Division Series between the Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers in Atlanta. Truist Park lost the 2021 All-Star Game on Friday, April 2, 2021, when Major League Baseball decided to move the game elsewhere over the league’s objection to Georgia’s sweeping new election law that critics say restricts voting rights. (AP Photo/John Amis, File)

ATLANTA, Georgia (WLNS) – A congressman is taking a swing at Major League Baseball after this year’s All-Star Game was pulled from the Peach State.

MLB announced today that the game, which was going to take place in Atlanta, is being relocated to protest several election laws that were recently passed in Georgia. Supporters of those laws say they will help protect election integrity, while opponents say they are a blatant attempt at voter suppression.

Several companies have expressed opposition to the new laws. Some of those companies have faced apparent retaliation from GOP lawmakers. Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian stood by his company’s statement of opposition, even after GOP lawmakers in Georgia stripped the company of some state tax breaks.

Lansing native Earvin “Magic” Johnson tweeted his support of MLB’s announcement today. President Joe Biden also endorsed the move.

Republican Representative Jeff Duncan from South Carolina was less pleased. He tweeted that his staff is working on legislation to eliminate MLB’s exemption to the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Antitrust laws prevent companies from doing things that reduce competition. According to the William & Mary Law Review, those laws limit how much control professional sports leagues have over their teams, among other things. For example, the Raiders football team has been able to relocate against the wishes of the National Football League. The team joined or filed antitrust lawsuits in order to do that.

MLB is the only major sports league immune to antitrust laws. That’s thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in the 1922 case of Federal Baseball Club of Baltimore Inc. v. National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, which found that exhibitions of baseball are “purely state affairs,” and do not qualify as commerce in the common use of the word. Although this ruling is controversial, it has since been upheld, including in 1953 by another Supreme Court ruling, Toolson v. New York Yankees, Inc.

Congress has the power to revoke MLB’s exemption to antitrust laws, and lawmakers have threatened to do so in the past.

While some legal scholars question whether the exemption is appropriate, others question whether MLB actually benefits from it. In the William & Mary Law Review article linked above, the authors point out that MLB rarely uses its exemption to exert control over teams. For example, there has been more franchise relocation in MLB than in the NFL since 1950, even though MLB could prevent that if it so chose. You can find that argument and its citations on page 15.

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