Court OKs Use of Federal Funds for Ballgame Trips

     (CN)- Washington State Senator Patty Murray was allowed to use federal money to send her constituents to Mariners games, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled.

     In the late 1990s, King County Metro began providing bus service to Seattle Mariners games, and in 2008 the Federal Transit Administration ruled that the Transit Act barred “charter service” to special events.
     The Charter Rule in the Federal Transit Act says that if a public transportation system receives federal funding, it must not “provide charter bus transportation service outside the urban area in which” it provides “regularly scheduled public transportation service.”
     There was no public bus service to games in 2009, and no private bus company could reach an agreement with the Mariners.
     Senator Patty Murray sponsored an amendment to the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010 to allow the King County Metro service to resume.
     In May of last year, the American Bus Association and United Motor Coach Association challenged the Murray Amendment in Washington’s district court.
     In their complaint, the companies claimed that “by singling out private charter bus operators in King County as the only such operators that cannot enforce the Charter Rule against a competitor (King County Metro), the Murray Amendment violates those operators’ First Amendment right to petition and Fifth Amendment right to equal protection.”
     The district court found the Murray Amendment to be unconstitutional. The Federal Transit Association appealed, and the Court of Appeals reversed the court’s decision.
     On appeal, Judge Merrick Garland rejected the bus associations’ claim that the Murray Amendment violated their right to petition.
     “[I]f the plaintiffs were correct that the Murray Amendment violates their petition right because it prevents them from successfully petitioning the FTA to enforce the Charter Rule against King County Metro, then the district court has violated KCM’s own petition right because its order – requiring the FTA to enforce the Charter Rule – prevents KCM from successful petitioning the FTA not to do so,” the judge wrote.
     The plaintiffs could not persuade the FTA to enforce the Charter Rule, but not because Congress barred them from “seeking redress,” Judge Garland found.
     “It is because Congress has deprived the agency of the funds necessary to grant the redress the plaintiffs seek,” he wrote.
     The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ equal protection claim, finding a “rational relationship between the disparity of treatment and some legitimate governmental purpose”
     According to a press release by Senator Murray, the Charter Rule “resulted in several specific problems in the Seattle region including private charter operators that were unable to accommodate handicapped fans, drastically increased fees for service, inconvenient and delayed staging, and increased congestion.”
     The court of appeals agreed with Murray, and found a rational reason to use public buses as transportation to Mariners’ games. The court reversed the district court’s decision.
     “If the plaintiffs wish to prevent KCM from taking Mariners fans out to the ball game, they will have to direct their petitions to Congress,” Judge Garland wrote in conclusion.
     In response to the plaintiffs’ claim that the government did not have a compelling interest in providing transportation, Judge Garland quoted the 1972 Supreme Court opinion Flood v. Kuhn, an antitrust action related to Major League Baseball.
      “Baseball’s status in the life of the nation is so pervasive that it would not strain credulity to say the Court can take judicial notice that baseball is everybody’s business,” Justice Harry Blackmun wrote.

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