The Justice Department (DOJ) has been ramping up antitrust enforcement under the Biden administration, despite not having a politically confirmed official to serve as antitrust chief.
The Department shares antitrust authority with the Federal Trade Commission, whose new liberal leadership has drawn much of the early spotlight. Yet in recent months, the DOJ has blocked a major insurance-industry merger between Aon and rival Willis Towers Watson; filed an aggressive challenge to a partnership between American Airlines and JetBlue; and withdrawn from a real-estate industry settlement in order to take a deeper look at whether industry practices keep some broker commissions artificially high.
Antitrust staffers are advancing investigations of business practices at Apple, Google (which already is facing one Justice Department antitrust lawsuit), and Visa. The Department’s antitrust division also is deep into scrutinizing some high-profile pending mergers. Those include a publishing industry deal in which Penguin Random House’s parent company is seeking to buy Simon & Schuster, and UnitedHealth’s planned acquisition of health-care technology company Change Healthcare.
Attorney General Merrick Garland, speaking at the New Yorker Festival on Monday, described the antitrust division as “energized and eager to go forward,” saying the Department had ongoing matters “involving everything from agriculture, to banking, to real estate.”
“We do think that ensuring fair competition is an essential element of our obligation to ensure that justice is done,” he said.
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