Biden to Name a Critic of Big Tech as the Top Antitrust Cop
Jonathan Kanter, a longtime antitrust lawyer, has built his career largely around working for smaller rivals of Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple.,
The White House said on Tuesday that would nominate Jonathan Kanter to be the top antitrust official at 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 lawyer who has made a career out of representing smaller rivals of the American tech giants, signals how strongly the administration is siding with the growing field of lawmakers, researchers and regulators who say that Silicon Valley has obtained outsize power over the way Americans speak with one another, buy products online and consume news.
Mr. Biden has named other critics of Big Tech to prominent roles, such as appointing Lina Khan, a critic of Amazon, to lead the Federal Trade Commission. Tim Wu, another legal scholar who says regulators need to crack down on the tech giants, serves in an economic policy role at the White House. And this month, Mr. Biden signed a sweeping executive order aimed at increasing competition across the economy and limiting corporate dominance.
Mr. Kanter, 47, is the founder of Kanter Law Group, which bills itself online as an “antitrust advocacy boutique.” He previously worked at the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison.
If he is confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Kanter would lead a division of the Justice Department that last year filed a lawsuit arguing Google had illegally protected a monopoly over online search services. The antitrust division of the agency has also been asking questions about Apple’s business practices.
The news won immediate approval from policymakers and advocacy groups helping to lead the charge for more stringent antitrust enforcement.
Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Minnesota Democrat who leads the antitrust subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee, called Mr. Kanter “an excellent choice,” citing his “deep legal experience and history of advocating for aggressive action.”
Sarah Miller, the 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 lead the D.O.J.’s antitrust division,” noting that Mr. Kanter had “devoted his career to reinvigorating antitrust enforcement.”
The announcement is less likely to be warmly embraced by deal-makers on Wall Street who have helped drive mergers and acquisitions volumes to record levels, propelled in part by an exuberant stock market.
Scrutiny in Washington on acquisitions has expanded beyond headline-grabbing Big Tech deals to industries like agriculture and health care. Deals in the pharmaceutical industry were heavily scrutinized in a report earlier this year by Representative Katie Porter, a Democrat from California. The F.T.C. announced in March that it was forming a group to “update” its approach to evaluating the impact of pharmaceutical deals.
In recent years, Mr. Kanter built an unusual practice out of criticizing the tech giants from inside Washington’s corporate law firms.
His services attracted some of the most prominent critics of Big Tech in corporate America. He has worked for both established clients like Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation and Microsoft as well as upstarts like Spotify and Yelp.
But last year, he left Paul, Weiss — an elite corporate litigation firm — because his portfolio representing critics of the tech giants conflicted with other work the firm was doing.
“Jonathan made this decision due to a complicated legal conflict that would have required him to discontinue important and longstanding client representations and relationships,” the firm said at the time.
Mr. Kanter’s critics are likely to question whether his previous work is a conflict of interest that should keep him out of investigations into the tech giants. Both Facebook and Amazon have asked that Ms. Khan recuse herself from matters involving the companies at the F.T.C., even though her background is as a legal scholar and not a paid representative for their rivals.
Asked whether Mr. Kanter would recuse himself from cases involving Google and Apple, a White House official simply said that the administration was confident that it could move forward with his nomination given his expertise and record.
Even if Mr. Kanter has the votes to be confirmed it will likely be months before he takes over at the Justice Department. Congress takes a long break during August — which could push his confirmation hearing past Labor Day.