In a filing Wednesday, the Justice Department asked a federal court to limit the scope of Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption to “conduct that is material to the offering of exhibitions of professional baseball.”
Calling the centennial waiver an aberration — no such waiver exists for other US-based sports leagues — the filing says the Supreme Court ruling creating the waiver was based on a “disavowed” interpretation of the Constitution.
The antitrust exemption, which protects MLB’s way of doing business, has been challenged in the past (Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, among others, called for its removal), but has withstood all previous legal challenges.
Wednesday’s comments came in a filing called a “statement of interest,” which allows the government to weigh in on ongoing legal cases in which it is not a plaintiff or defendant. In another recent statement of interest filed in a District of Columbia court, the Justice Department urged a judge to reconsider its dismissal of an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon.
In this case, the filing related to a lawsuit in which three former minor league teams affiliated with major league clubs, including the Staten Island Yankees, sued MLB accusing the league of antitrust violations when their teams, along with with another 40, they were eliminated. in a recent consolidation of Minor League Baseball.
MLB has asked that the lawsuit be dismissed, citing, in part, the antitrust exemption. The Justice Department did not take a formal position on the league’s request for dismissal in its filing Wednesday in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. But he did ask the court to “narrowly define the exemption.”
While the filing is relevant to MLB in the short term because of how it ties into the ongoing lawsuit, the possibility of the waiver being lifted based on various legal challenges could have much bigger repercussions in terms of how teams conduct business. and the various freedoms granted to players.
Wednesday’s filing was signed by Jonathan Kanter, head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, who along with Lina Khan, chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, is part of a group of progressives trying to promote antitrust reform. For decades, they argue, the courts have applied the law in a way that favors large corporations. Both regulators were appointed last year by President Biden, who also signed an executive order in July 2021 aimed at spurring competition across the economy.
David McCabe contributed report.