The Eighth Circuit has just ruled that the Norris-LaGuardia Act prohibits federal courts of entering injunctions in labor disputes. As I've discussed before, the owners have said that this doctrine means that Judge Nelson's order issuing an injunction against the lockout--holding in effect that the lockout was invalid--should be null and void. Today, the Eighth Circuit agreed with the owners, handing them a huge win.
Some people had suggested that the Court would "stand down" while mediated talks were ongoing, particularly because those talks seemed to be making good progress. (At least at the district court level, Chief Magistrate Judge Boylan, who has been overseeing discussions, has entered orders on the docket that are sealed (i.e., not public), which I assume relate to the status of the confidential talks.) Today's decision means (1) the lockout can continue and (2) the balance of power has shifted dramatically in the negotiations. We'll see whether this is seen as a setback by the players, and if the owners try to "claw back" some of their previous concessions in light of today's ruling.
Updates to follow...
UPDATE 7/8/2011, 11 am: As expected, this decision broke down among 2-1 lines, just like every other Eighth Circuit decision to date. The majority held that the Norris-LaGuardia Act, which generally prohibits injunctions in the context of labor disputes, applied here, and so Judge Nelson did not have jurisdiction to issue an injunction lifting the lockout. The Court notably did not reach the other arguments raised by the NFL. This means, for example, that the League might still be liable for violations of the antitrust laws and be forced to pay money damages. (I can't, however, imagine that this will go on for that long.)
The majority relied on Section 4(a) of the Act, which prohibits injunctions against "remain[ing] in any relation of employment". The Appeals Court ruled that players were in a "relation of employment" with owners, the owners decided not to "remain" in that relationship any longer, and so the Act prohibited an injunction. But the Court also held that this rule does not apply to free agents and rookies. Because free agents and rookies are not currently employed, they cannot "remain" in a state of employment. Thus, the lockout could be potentially invalid regarding free agents and rookies. However, Judge Nelson did not hear from live witnesses on this point (she only took paper submissions), and the Appeals Court sent the matter back for a hearing. In theory, Judge Nelson could rule that the lockout is invalid as to free agents and rookies, and we could have a bizarre situation where veterans are locked out but rookies and free agents are not.
Later today I'll explore some of the practical implications of this decision.