Merrick Garland Pledges Strong Antitrust Enforcement

Merrick Garland
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Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland said Monday (Feb. 22) that he will be a strong enforcer of antitrust law as "the charter of American economic liberty" and expects to need more resources to do so.

He was testifying at his Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearing.

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Saying the Federal Trade Commission and DOJ Antitrust Division were shadows of what they were when AT&T was broken up, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), chair of the Antitrust Subcommittee, asked Garland if he supported her bill that would provide more resources so they weren't overseeing a merging marketplace with Band-Aids and duct tape.

Garland conceded that his first love in law school was antitrust, which he has also taught, and said he always wants to be in the position to say "thank you, yes," when asked if he wants more resources. He said he expected that was what he would say, but added he can't evaluate what resources he will need to "vigorously enforce the antitrust laws.

Klobuchar has proposed reforms to antitrust law, including ones to crack down on Big Tech buying up to monopoly, including changing some of the standards for mergers and exclusionary conduct, and she said she hoped he would support that effort as well.

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Klobuchar said if anything argued for antitrust law reform, it was DOJ's and FTC's suits against Facebook over its acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp? She suggested he brush up on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's e-mail about purchasing nascent competitors. She said the response to such an e-mail needed to come from Justice and needed to be that such exclusionary conduct is not the way capitalism is supposed to work.

Garland promised to take that issue very seriously and said he had done so throughout his career.  He said he deeply believed, as the Supreme Court has stated, that antitrust law is "the charter of American economic liberty. 

Asked by Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) if he thought the Justice Department had a role in examining the role of online misinformation in contributing to domestic division and terrorism and helping develop "reasonable solutions," Garland said he had no specific legislative solutions, but said he thought that the important part of the investigation of violent extremist groups is "following their activities online and getting an idea of the misinformation being put out."

Coons said he looked forward to working with Garland to find the correct balance between personal liberty and competitiveness and pushing back on digital authoritarianism.

Before becoming a federal judge in 1997, Garland had a lengthy career at Justice, including as a special assistant to Attorney General Ben Civiletti, assistant U.S. attorney; a supervisor in the Criminal Division and a senior official in the deputy attorney general's Office. 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.