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Opening Day and the Law


Opening Day at Nationals Park 2014 – photo by author

I read with interest Kelly’s post last week regarding cricket and the law, especially the section on the Indian case where the plaintiffs stated that watching the sport was a matter of “right to life and personal liberty.”

Today being the Washington Nationals‘ Opening Day, it got me thinking about our National Pastime and how we honor it.

I’m taking leave to attend today’s game; I have for practically every Opening Day over the past 25 years or so. Before the Nationals came to town, I would venture up to Baltimore to watch the Orioles for my first baseball fix of the year.

Even though baseball is our National Pastime, we do not honor it as an official holiday (and certainly not as a basic human right!). But could we? Some people have called for such an action: I even found two petitions on the White House website. The latest one, in 2014, was co-sponsored by Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith and Budweiser.  The Administration’s response was full of baseball puns, but firmly quashed the idea, deeming it as being within the purview of Congress.

So I decided to do a little research into declaring federal holidays (with a nod to Margaret’s post of 2012).

As the White House indicated, only Congress can designate a federal holiday. The President can issue an executive order (or proclamation) declaring a one-time holiday, but in order for it to become an annual event, Congress must approve it.  (Note: The National Constitution Center explains the difference between federal and national holidays in its article on Columbus Day, leading me to conclude that there will never be a national holiday declared.)

Title 5, subsect. 6103(a) of the US Code lists all currently designated federal holidays. However, these holidays legally apply only to federal workers and residents of the District of Columbia.

States can choose whether or not to observe these holidays and can add their own.

So you would need Congressional support to have Opening Day declared a new federal holiday. Congress would most likely take action if a majority of states already recognized it as such, or they could act on their own initiative.

A search of Congress.gov found no such bills introduced as of yet in the 114th Congress.

But could this happen? It seems unlikely.

First, not all teams begin the season on the same day. Some teams’ first games are Sunday, others Monday and some Tuesday. For the past few years two teams have actually begun their season overseas (no, I’m not referring to Toronto). Plus, half of the teams start the season away from home. Would we then have to allow those teams alternate federal holidays on the date of their first home game?

It’s already beginning to sound too complicated.

At present, only 17 states (plus D.C. and Canada) have Major League baseball teams. That would perhaps ensure the votes of only 34 senators.

Several of these states have multiple teams. For example there are a total of seven Major League Baseball teams in California and New York (a fact that might hurt the cause more than help it).

From the House perspective things potentially look brighter. There are 287 House members in those 17 states, just under a two-thirds majority of the total House members.

Finally, when you think about it, exactly how many people would be affected by all of this? When you factor in that only about 1.5 million federal workers combined live in the 17 states and D.C. that have major league teams, it doesn’t even make up 1% of the population of those states, let alone the population of the entire country. Unless the states themselves decided to implement the new holiday, it seems that very few people would have a real interest in this.

I am certain I’m not the only one at the Library of Congress who is a bit of a baseball fanatic and has opined about the importance of Opening Day.  In fact, I’m sure that like-minded colleagues had a hand in the new exhibit at Nationals Park entitled “Baseball Americana,” depicting the history of baseball in D.C., a collaborative effort between the Library of Congress and Major League Baseball.  I can’t wait to see it this afternoon!

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