ATLANTA - A federal judge Thursday denied a bid to force Major League Baseball (MLB) to reverse its decision to pull this year’s All-Star Game out of Georgia in protest of a state law putting new restrictions on voting.
Washington, D.C.-based Job Creators Network, an advocacy group for small businesses backed by The Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, sued MLB and its players union late last month seeking either the return of the game to Truist Park in Cobb County or the payment of $100 million in damages, an estimate of the game’s potential economic impact.
MLB announced it was moving next month’s All-Star Game to Denver shortly after the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed and Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill that tightens voter ID requirements in Georgia, limits locations for ballot drop boxes and prohibits non-poll workers from handing out food and drinks within 150 feet of voters standing in line.
Lawmakers acted after then-President Donald Trump claimed massive voter fraud in Georgia robbed him of carrying the state last November, charges that were subsequently dismissed by state election officials and in the courts.
Republicans defended the new law as a way to restore public trust in elections. Democrats charged it amounts to voter suppression.
A lawyer representing Job Creators Network argued Thursday that MLB’s decision to move the All-Star Game is punishing Georgia in an effort to intimidate the legislature into repealing the new law.
Transferring the economic benefits of the game from Georgia to Colorado would violate the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause by inflicting harm on Georgia businesses while benefiting those in Colorado, Howard Kleinhendler said during a hearing in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
“If you’re going to harm someone, you have to have a valid reason,” Kleinhendler said. “You can’t say ‘yes’ to Colorado and ‘no’ to Georgia because you don’t like an election law. That’s not a legitimate reason.”
But Judge Valerie Caproni, who sharply questioned Kleinhendler’s assertions throughout the hearing, ruled that Job Creators Network had no legal standing to bring the suit because it failed to demonstrate it has suffered harm from MLB’s decision.
The group spent significant resources taking its case to the public, including leasing a billboard on New York’s Times Square and taking out an ad in The New York Times.
But Caproni maintained such public relations spending is part of the group’s core mission.
The judge also declared that MLB has the legal right to take a stand on public policy. She sympathized with baseball players and coaches chosen for the All-Star Game wanting to avoid facing media questions about the issue.
“That’s a policy debate that maybe MLB doesn’t want to have,” Caproni said.
Jeffrey Kessler, a lawyer representing the players union, said his client shouldn’t even have been brought into the lawsuit because it didn’t have a say over MLB’s decision to move the game.
“We don’t belong here,” he said. “[Job Creators Network] admits we don’t have the power. We didn’t make the decision.”
Caproni also faulted Job Creators Network for waiting until the end of May to file the lawsuit, after the decision to let Denver host the game had been made.
The judge set a pre-trial conference for the case early next month.