President Joe Biden has picked Jonathan Kanter to serve as the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for antitrust, in a major win for progressive Democrats who accused the agency of failing to aggressively pursue major tech companies’ anti–competitive and privacy violations.
The White House announced the nomination Tuesday.
Key context: Progressives have championed Kanter to helm the DOJ’s antitrust division because of his work over the past decade representing companies, including Microsoft, that lodged antitrust complaints about Google. His advocacy on the issue helped spur three recent antitrust cases against the search giant over its power in online search and advertising.
Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) — whose 2020 presidential runs included prominent calls for greater antitrust enforcement — hailed the selection of Kanter, who will join White House adviser Tim Wu and Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan in the trio of progressive tech critics with prominent jobs in Biden’s administration.
“He’s been a leader in the fight to check consolidated corporate power and strengthen competition in our markets,” Warren said.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the vice chair of the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee and leading progressive in the lower chamber, said she welcomes Kanter’s efforts to “rein in Big Tech’s anti-competitive practices, put an end to monopolistic practices, and promote fairness.”
If the Senate confirms him, Kanter would head the DOJ division that filed an antitrust suit against Google in October, the first such federal complaint against a major tech power since the Clinton administration attempted to break up Microsoft in the 1990s. But he may not have an untroubled path: White House ethics officials had raised red flags about hiring antitrust officials with a history of representing critics of the tech giants, as POLITICO has reported.
A White House official declined to comment directly on the recusal issue Tuesday, saying only “we are confident moving forward with Kanter for the position given his track record and expertise.”
Google declined to comment on Kanter’s selection for the post. The search giant is in an especially acrimonious rivalry with Microsoft, which — despite being one of the world’s wealthiest companies — has staked out ground in D.C. as a critic of the dominant online platforms.
From Big Law to Big Tech critic: Kanter began his career as a staff attorney at the Federal Trade Commission before moving to private practice. A protege of Rick Rule, a Republican who served as President Ronald Reagan’s DOJ antitrust chief, Kanter represented Microsoft when it settled the Justice Department’s probe in the early 2000s and then through the company’s travails with European antitrust authorities.
He also represented companies including U.S. Airways in its merger with American Airlines, and health insurer Cigna in its failed deal with Anthem.
But he is best known for his work on tech, representing Microsoft and later clients including Yelp, News Corp. and Mapbox in antitrust fights against Google. More recently, he has also represented companies that raised antitrust complaints about Apple and Amazon.
Last year, Kanter left the law firm Paul Weiss to start his own antitrust advocacy firm, the Kanter Law Group.
His early criticism of the tech giants on antitrust grounds and support for more aggressive enforcement made him a favorite of progressives and anti-monopoly advocates, who have urged the Biden administration to eschew Obama-era antitrust enforcers when making his own picks.
What’s next: The post requires Senate confirmation. Once the White House officially sends it to the Senate, the Judiciary Committee will schedule a confirmation hearing — likely sometime in September or October given Congress’s upcoming August recess.
Progressive victory lap: Anti-monopoly activists for months have been pushing for a trifecta of Big Tech critics to join the Biden administration, including Wu, who’s now an adviser on Biden’s National Economic Council, and Khan, whom Biden elevated to FTC chair last month after her Senate confirmation. Kanter was their final pick.
At a party in Washington last week to celebrate the publication of the Facebook expose “An Ugly Truth” by a pair of New York Times’ reporters, Wu was spotted carrying around the coffee cup that has become a progressive calling card: Wu & Khan & Kanter.
Progressive groups were elated by Tuesday’s news, calling it a clear sign that Biden intends to make up for the Obama administration’s lapses on antitrust with tough enforcers.
Sarah Miller, executive director of the anti-monopoly group American Economic Liberties Project, said Kanter has the “experience, values, and intellectual foresight” to combat concentrated corporate power.