Antitrust Law Daily Biden taps Jonathan Kanter to lead Justice Department Antitrust Division
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Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Biden taps Jonathan Kanter to lead Justice Department Antitrust Division

By Jeffrey May, J.D.

After six months in office, President names nationally recognized antitrust lawyer and FTC as long-awaited nominee for antitrust chief.

President Joe Biden today announced his intent to nominate Jonathan Kanter to serve as Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division. According to the White House, Kanter has been "a leading advocate and expert in the effort to promote strong and meaningful antitrust enforcement and competition policy."

Kanter is the founding partner of Kanter Law Group in Washington, D.C. Prior to founding the self-described antitrust advocacy boutique, Kanter was co-chair of the antitrust practice at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, and Garrison LLP, according to his bio. He also served as an attorney at the FTC Bureau of Competition, where he investigated and challenged large mergers.

When he joined Paul, Weiss in 2016, the firm described Kanter as "among the nation’s ‘go to’ lawyers for matters involving tech and media." He is perceived as a progressive and as a critic of "big tech." While at Paul, Weiss, Kanter represented TradeComet, LLC, which operated its own search engine website known as "SourceTool.com," in an antitrust action against Google, Inc. over the prices Google charged TradeComet for its participation in the AdWords program.

Delayed pick. The announcement of the intended nominee comes six months into the Biden presidency. With the Administration’s focus on antitrust enforcement and reform, the delay in announcing the nomination has raised questions. Most of Biden’s picks for leadership posts at the Justice Department have already been named, and some are already on the job.

There was speculation that the delay in picking an antitrust chief was caused by differences of opinion within the administration over the direction of antitrust or concerns about top contenders’ positions on enforcement or ties to the tech sector. Involvement in earlier actions or stated positions on issues or a particular company’s practices can lead to requests for recusal. Amazon and Facebook have already sought recusal of FTC Chair Lina Khan from the agency’s respective investigations and enforcement action. And Makan Delrahim—President Trump’s antitrust chief—recused himself from the Antitrust Division’s Google investigation that was started during the Trump administration and continues to be a major focus for the current Antitrust Division.

Both President Donald Trump and President Barack Obama announced their picks for antitrust chief much earlier in their administrations. Obama, named Christine Varney as his intended nominee just days after taking office in January 2009. Varney was confirmed by the Senate just three months later. The nomination of Delrahim was received by the Senate in early April 2017 after Trump’s inauguration. However, Delrahim was not confirmed until five months later.

Early support. In an April 21 blog post on TheHill.com, Rep. Mondaire Jones (D., N.Y.) called on Biden to nominate Kanter to serve as assistant attorney general for the Antitrust Division. Mondaire said that "in both the United States and Europe, antitrust enforcers consult Kanter when they need to win their toughest cases against modern monopolies." Applauding Biden’s nomination of Lina Khan to serve at the FTC and the selection of Tim Wu to advise the Administration on technology and competition policy, the congressman said that Kanter would "complete this transformative antitrust team."

If confirmed, Kanter will replace Richard A. Powers, who is serving as Acting Assistant Attorney General.

Attorneys: Jonathan S. Kanter (Kanter Law Group). (Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP).

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