The White House said on Tuesday that it 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.
President Biden’s plan to appoint Mr. Kanter, an antitrust lawyer who has made a career out of representing rivals of American tech giants like Google and Facebook, signals how strongly the administration is siding with the growing field of lawmakers, researchers and regulators who say 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 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. His services have attracted some of the most prominent critics of Big Tech in corporate America, including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and Microsoft as well as upstarts like Spotify and Yelp.
If he is confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Kanter will 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 White House took more than six months from Mr. Biden’s swearing-in to land on Mr. Kanter. The administration has had to juggle progressive and moderate factions within its own party, as well as the likelihood of Republican support in a divided Senate.
The decision 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.”
Makan Delrahim, a lawyer who led the Justice Department’s antitrust efforts under President Donald J. Trump, said in a text message that Mr. Kanter would be a “great leader” of the division and called him a “serious lawyer” with private sector and government experience.
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The announcement may be less 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 consumer goods, agriculture, insurance and health care.
The Justice Department has sued to block the proposed merger of Aon and Willis Towers Watson, its first major antitrust action since Mr. Biden took office. The F.T.C. announced in March that it was forming a group to “update” its approach to evaluating the impact of pharmaceutical deals, an industry that generally falls under its purview. That followed a report led by Representative Katie Porter, a Democrat from California, scrutinizing deals in the industry.
In recent years, Mr. Kanter built an unusual practice out of criticizing the tech giants from inside Washington’s corporate law firms. The tech giants have become lucrative clients for major law firms, often making it difficult for those firms to work for their opponents.
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 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 is likely to be months before he takes over at the Justice Department. Congress takes a long break during August — which could push his confirmation past Labor Day.
Cecilia Kang contributed reporting.
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