Earlier this week I wrote on National Review Online that the Baltimore Orioles were in likely violation of the civil-rights laws by their announced refusal to hire Cuban defectors. Orioles owner Peter Angelos — who is also in the major leagues when it comes to the money he has given to various Democratic candidates and causes in recent years — is now backtracking. A story in the Washington Post this morning reports that Angelos says the team would be interested in signing Cuban defectors after all. “But we would not solicit or encourage anyone to defect — rather we would discourage that,” Angelos is quoted as saying.
Does this take Mr. Angelos off the hook? I’m not so sure. Suppose a company announced that it would not hire African Americans, was criticized for this, and then recanted and said, “All right, we’ll hire African Americans if they apply, but we’re not going to encourage them to apply — rather we would discourage that.” That company would still be in violation of the civil-rights laws.
The Orioles have sent a clear message to Cuban defectors that they will not be welcomed with open arms. And who knows exactly what the Angelos policy really is? When Jennifer Collins of the Center for Equal Opportunity spoke to him on Wednesday, he first denied that the Orioles had any kind of blanket policy excluding consideration of any player (kind of like what he said in the Post). But when Ms. Collins then pressed him on whether that meant he would consider Cuban defectors in particular, he refused to comment. Syd Thrift, Orioles vice president in charge of baseball operations, had explained that the club’s approach is “not a policy. It’s just a concept.” Whatever that means.
It’s not just the civil-rights laws that are potentially implicated here. Joe Kehoskie, who represents four Cuban ballplayers, wrote a letter on Wednesday to MLB commissioner Bud Selig, complaining that the Orioles’ policy also is in probable violation of baseball’s collective-bargaining agreement.
And here’s another angle. Suppose that the impetus for the Orioles’ policy is the Cuban government itself. This is not far-fetched, since Angelos met with Fidel Castro when the Orioles visited there last year, and sat with Castro behind home plate during the game between the Orioles and the Cuban national team. It’s not hard to believe that Castro complained to Angelos about Cuban defectors being signed by American teams (in fact, it’s hard to believe he didn’t say that). If so, then the Orioles may also be violating the 1977 amendments to the Export Administration Act and the Ribicoff Amendment to the 1976 Tax Reform Act.
These “antiboycott” laws were prompted by the Arab League’s pressure on American companies to boycott Israel, but their sweep is much broader than that. In particular, they would apply whenever any U.S. business (for instance, the Baltimore Orioles), at the behest of any foreign government (for instance, Cuba), is “Refusing, or requiring any other person to refuse, to employ or otherwise discriminating against any United States person [that includes Cuban defectors here] on the basis of … national origin.” Officials at the Treasury Department and Commerce Department confirmed that the laws apply to national-origin discrimination against any person in the U.S. by any U.S. company taken at the instigation of any foreign power.
This is a criminal statute, by the way, with fines of up to $50,000 and prison sentences of up to 5 years — or considerably more if the violation is “willful.”
One last point. Mr. Angelos is a smart lawyer, so he may be able to argue, a la Gore, that his policy is not contrary to any controlling legal precedent. But even if the Orioles’ policy is legally permissible, it’s still appalling. What is Mr. Angelos’s moral justification for discouraging people from leaving a totalitarian regime? It’s hard to think of one (except for George Will’s typically trenchant comment in today’s National Review Online that pitching for the Orioles this year is its own cruel and unusual punishment).
— Roger Clegg is president and general counsel of the Center for Equal Opportunity in Sterling, Virginia. Today the Center for Equal Opportunity is announcing a new location for its website for those folks to visit who think they may have been illegally judged by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character: www.affirmativeactionwatch.net .