Looking Back At Sotomayor's 1995 Baseball Ruling

President Obama has nominated Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace Justice David Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court. But for a time in the mid-1990s, Sotomayor was known as the woman who saved baseball.

In 1994, for the first time in 90 years, there was no World Series for the Boys of Summer. The baseball strike went on to last more than seven months.

"It was terrible," says Paul Finkelman, an expert in sports law at Albany Law School. "It almost destroyed baseball. If you are a baseball fan, a summer without baseball is a year without a summer."

"My first year in law school was the fall of '94," says Howard Wasserman, a law professor at Florida International University. "I probably did better because I didn't have baseball distracting me."

The fight between baseball players and team owners was not a typical labor-management dispute. Millions of people sat waiting for America's pastime to resume.

In 1995, the year after the World Series was canceled, the dispute reached Judge Sotomayor. She was still relatively new to the U.S. District Court in New York. She had come from a law firm where she represented high-profile corporations like Ferrari.

In this case, she sided with the baseball players over the owners. She forced both sides back to negotiations.

"She could have simply looked at how does this affect the parties," says Jeff Hirsch, who teaches labor law at the University of Tennessee.

But her analysis examined the context of the dispute between the players and the owners.

"She explicitly states in the opinion that one of the reasons an injunction is warranted is that this is really affecting the public in a lot of ways," Hirsch says. "There is, I think, a recognition there that sports in general, baseball in particular, maybe holds a special place."

In fact, Wasserman points out, Sotomayor's opinion explicitly recognizes the sports fans as she explains the details of the labor dispute.

"I recognize that baseball purists will wince at my simplified explanation of the very complex relationship between the owners and the players," she writes.

"In the end, she concludes that what the major league owners did violated labor law," Finkelman says. "So she issued a preliminary injunction, which forced major league owners back to the negotiating table and kept the baseball season going."

"I think actually this case is very important for understanding her judicial philosophy," Finkelman says.

Sotomayor framed that philosophy after Obama introduced her as his nominee Tuesday at the White House: "I strive never to forget the real-world consequences of my decisions on individuals, businesses and government."

In the baseball lawsuit, those consequences meant the return of the game. In the New York Daily News, the headline read: "Lords of Baseball Strike Out Again."

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