Is Donald Sterling getting legal justice? Maybe not, according to conservative lawyer A.J. Delgado.
At National Review Online, Delgado contends that the penalties imposed on Sterling may not actually be justified under the NBA’s constitution and by-laws. This is not necessarily to say that Sterling did nothing wrong for which the NBA could punish him. Rather, Delgado argues that the NBA–reacting to public outrage, and reaching for the most spectacular possible punishment–chose a section of the by-laws that would permit a bigger penalty than would have been authorized by the section that seems more applicable to the conduct in question.
Delgado likewise suggests that the further penalty contemplated by the NBA–a forced sale of the franchise–may not be legitimate. There is a provision that permits the other owners to force a sale. But, according to Delgado, it is for cases in which the owner violates the by-laws or fails to perform a contractual obligation–which is not exactly the most obvious description of Sterling’s misconduct.
I don’t know whether Delgado’s argument would hold up in court, if Sterling chose to contest the NBA’s decision, although his points look plausible in light of the language he quotes from the NBA constitution and by-laws. But his argument points to a larger issue that we need to keep in mind: even a noxious citizen has legal rights, and it is, in the long run, in everyone’s interests if moral indignation, no matter how justified, is directed and limited by rules.