DAVID GREENE, host:
Back in the mid-90s, Judge Sonia Sotomayor was known as the woman who saved baseball. Now, President Obama has nominated her to replace Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court. In the coming weeks we'll be taking a look at various aspects of her life and judicial record. Here's a story about one of her best known rulings. NPR's Ari Shapiro tells us about the day that baseball team owners struck out.
ARI SHAPIRO: Law professor Paul Finkelman vividly remembers the year the World Series did not happen.
Professor PAUL FINKELMAN (Law, Albany Law School): The players had been on strike. It was terrible. I mean - and it almost destroyed baseball. If you were a baseball fan, a summer without baseball is a year without a summer.
SHAPIRO: Finkelman is an expert in sports law at Albany Law School. His colleague in the field, Howard Wasserman, is at Florida International University.
Professor HOWARD WASSERMAN (Law, Florida International University): That was my first year in law school was the fall of '94 and I probably did better because I didn't have baseball distracting me.
SHAPIRO: In short, 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 Sonia Sotomayor. She was still relatively new to the district court in New York. She'd 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.
Jeff Hirsch teaches labor law at the University of Tennessee.
Professor JEFF HIRSCH (Labor law, University of Tennessee): She could've simply looked at, well, how does this affect the parties.
SHAPIRO: The parties meaning the players and the owners. But Judge Sotomayor's analysis looked at the context of the dispute.
Prof. HIRSCH: She explicitly states in the opinion, that, you know, one of the reasons that an injunction is warranted is that this is really affecting the public in a lot of ways. I mean, there is, I think, a recognition there that sports in general, baseball in particular, maybe holds a special place.
SHAPIRO: In fact, points out Professor Wasserman of Florida, Judge Sotomayor's opinion explicitly recognizes the sports fans as she explains the details of the labor dispute.
Prof. WASSERMAN: She apologized to baseball fans for oversimplifying things and not, sort of, recognizing how important and, in a sense, how traumatic it was for baseball fans.
SHAPIRO: She writes: I recognize that baseball purists will wince at my simplified explanation of the very complex relationship between the owners and the players.
That is not to say she gives the law short shrift, says Professor Finkelman of Albany.
Prof. FINKELMAN: There's a lot of law in this opinion. It's a very long opinion for a preliminary injunction. But in the end she concludes that what the major league owners did violated labor law. And so she issued a preliminary injunction which forced major league owners back to the negotiating table and kept the baseball season going.
SHAPIRO: Finkelman concludes…
Prof. FINKELMAN: And I think actually this case is very important for understanding her judicial philosophy.
SHAPIRO: Here's how Judge Sotomayor framed that philosophy at the White House yesterday.
Judge SONIA SOTOMAYOR (Candidate, Supreme Court justice): I strive never to forget the real world consequences of my decisions on individuals, businesses and government.
SHAPIRO: In the baseball lawsuit those consequences meant the return of the game. And in the New York Daily News the headline read: Lords of Baseball Strike Out Again.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.
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