This Day in Legal History: May 29

In 1915, the Baltimore Terrapins, a team in the smaller and younger Federal League, sued the American and National baseball leagues for unfair practices in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. The legislation, passed in 1890, was meant to curb monopolies in inter-state commerce. The case languished in the courts (some say the doing of D.C. District Judge and Chicago Cubs fanatic Kenesaw Mountain Landis), and by the end of the year the league was finished, unable to weather the low war-time turnout.

But eventually the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, chose to hear the case. On May 29, 1922, the Court decided in favor of the Major Leagues, stating that baseball, as a trade in “personal effort” rather than products, is exempt from anti-trust legislation. While teams do cross state lines in order to ply their trade, the Court, using the following metaphor, ruled that the travel is not the essential aspect of the business:

“To repeat the illustrations given by the Court below, a firm of lawyers sending out a member to argue a case, or the Chautauqua lecture bureau sending out lecturers, does not engage in such commerce because the lawyer or lecturer goes to another State.”

To date, Major League baseball is the only professional sport in the U.S. that remains exempt from anti-trust laws, still enjoying the legal status of an all-American pastime rather than a powerful industry.

Fastcase subscribers, click to read the Supreme Court decision.

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