The White House announced Tuesday that it would appoint Jonathan Kanter as chief antitrust officer in the Justice Department, a move that would add another longtime critic of big tech and corporate concentration to a powerful regulatory position.
Mr Biden’s plan to appoint Mr Kanter, an antitrust attorney who made his career representing smaller rivals of American tech giants, signals how strongly the government stands on the side of the growing field of lawmakers, researchers and regulators who say that Silicon Valley has gained supreme power over the way Americans talk to each other, buy products online, and consume news.
Mr. Biden has made other big tech critics in prominent roles, including the appointment of Amazon critic Lina Khan to lead the Federal Trade Commission. Tim Wu, another legal scholar who says regulators must crack down on the tech giants, holds an economic policy role in the White House. And this month, Mr. Biden signed a comprehensive executive order aimed at increasing competition across the economy and limiting corporate dominance.
Mr. Kanter, 47, is the founder of the Kanter Law Group, which calls itself the “antitrust boutique” online. He previously worked for the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.
If approved by the Senate, Mr. Kanter would head a division of the Justice Department that filed a lawsuit last year alleging that Google illegally protected a monopoly over online search services. The agency’s antitrust department has also asked questions about Apple’s business practices.
The news received immediate approval from policy makers and stakeholders who helped lead the indictment for stricter antitrust enforcement.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who heads the Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee, called Mr. Kanter “an excellent choice”, citing his “deep legal experience and advocacy of aggressive action.”
Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project, a progressive advocacy group, said in a statement that “President Biden has made an excellent choice to help the D.O.J. Antitrust Division “dedicated his career to reviving antitrust law. “
The announcement is being received less favorably by the deal-makers on Wall Street, who have helped increase the volume of mergers and acquisitions Record values, driven in part by an exuberant stock market.
Washington control over acquisitions has expanded beyond headline-grabbing big-tech deals to industries like agriculture and healthcare. Deals in the pharmaceutical industry were examined in depth in a report earlier this year by MP Katie Porter, a California Democrat. The F.T.C. announced in March that it created a group to “update” its approach to assessing the impact of pharmaceuticals businesses.
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In recent years, Mr. Kanter has built an unusual practice by criticizing the tech giants from Washington’s corporate law firms.
His services attracted some of the most prominent big tech critics in American corporations. He has worked for established clients like Rupert Murdochs News Corporation and Microsoft, as well as upstart clients like Spotify and Yelp.
But last year he left Paul, Weiss – an elite litigation firm – because his portfolio, which represented critics of the tech giants, was at odds with other work the firm did.
“Jonathan made this decision because of a complicated legal conflict that would have forced him to discontinue important and long-standing client representations and relationships,” the firm said at the time.
Mr. Kanter’s critics are likely to doubt whether his previous work is a conflict of interest that should keep him away from investigating the tech giants. Both Facebook and Amazon have urged Ms. Khan to back off on matters affecting the FTC’s businesses despite serving as a legal scholar rather than a paid agent for her rivals.
When asked if Mr. Kanter would back out of cases with Google and Apple, one White House official said simply that the government was confident it could move ahead with his nomination given his expertise and record.
Even if Mr Kanter has the votes to confirm it will likely be months before he takes over the Justice Department. Congress is taking a long hiatus in August – which could postpone its confirmation hearing beyond Labor Day.