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The White House has tapped a longtime gadfly of Google and other big tech companies to lead the Department of Justice’s antitrust division.
President Biden on Tuesday nominated Jonathan Kanter — a pugnacious antitrust attorney who has fought legal battles against Google and who has said US competition enforcers have “lost our way” — to head the key agency.
Kanter must be confirmed by the Senate, where news of his nomination was immediately met with praise from Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
Warren called the move “tremendous news for workers and consumers,” adding that Kanter has “been a leader in the fight to check consolidated corporate power and strengthen competition in our markets.”
Meahwhile, the executive director of the progressive Open Markets Institute, Barry Lynn, said Kanter “knows how to break the fist of private power and build a rule of law for the digital age.”
If confirmed, Kanter will take over the Justice Department’s ongoing suit against Google over the company’s “unlawful monopolies” in search and advertising — the department’s first substantial challenge to a big tech company since its 1998 antitrust suit against Microsoft.
The 47-year-old Kanter has a long history with Google. After starting his career at the Federal Trade Commission, he moved into private practice, where he represented Google rivals and critics including Microsoft, Yelp and New York Post parent company News Corp.
In addition to his legal work, the combative attorney has advocated publicly for more assertive antitrust enforcement against tech giants.
“Monopoly cases are the equivalent of jaywalking,” Kanter said in a 2018 speech. “The last big Section 2 case brought by the United States government … is the Microsoft case 20 years ago. So what has gone wrong? How have we lost our way?”
And in 2016, Kanter slammed the Obama administration antitrust enforcement as being “barely on life support.”
Kanter’s nomination comes on the heels of fellow big tech foe Lina Khan’s confirmation in June as head of the Federal Trade Commission.
Khan has already clashed with Amazon and Facebook during her short tenure as FTC chief. Both tech giants have demanded she recuse herself from antitrust investigations involving them due to past critical writing about the companies, though Khan has yet to respond.
Given Kanter’s work for Google’s rivals, he may face similar pressure to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s suit against Google, according to Mark McCareins, a business law professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
McCareins added that the methodical nature of the Justice Department’s work means that anyone expecting “immediate fireworks against big tech will probably be disappointed.”
Kanter will also be busy overseeing antitrust cases not related to tech, including a long-running investigation into poultry price-fixing, McCareins said.
“Chickens are not big tech but he has inherited that investigation — it is massive, it is important, and if anybody thinks his day will be occupied 100 percent about trying to deal with big tech, they are wrong,” the professor said.
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