WASHINGTON—President Biden said he would nominate Jonathan Kanter to run the Justice Department’s antitrust division on Tuesday, turning to a vocal critic of Google as his administration has taken an aggressive posture on enforcing antitrust laws across industries.
Mr. Kanter is a longtime antitrust lawyer who has represented companies that argue they have been harmed by the conduct of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which dominates internet search and advertising.
Google currently faces an antitrust lawsuit, filed by the Justice Department last year, that alleges Google uses a web of exclusionary agreements and other tactics to preserve a monopoly for its flagship search engine and related advertising business.
Google has denied the allegations, saying it has designed its products and services to improve experiences for consumers. A trial isn’t expected to happen until 2023.
If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Kanter would be the second critic of large technology companies to take a key antitrust enforcement post for the Biden administration, following Lina Khan, a progressive former law professor who is now chair of the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC and Justice Department jointly enforce U.S. antitrust laws.
One of Mr. Kanter’s first tasks will be to re-examine federal guidelines for the review of mergers, in response to a recent executive order Mr. Biden signed to encourage federal agencies to promote competitive markets.
Mr. Kanter was most recently in private practice, and previously worked as an antitrust attorney at the FTC. He has represented Microsoft and others in legal battles with Google for more than a decade.
News Corp, the parent company of The Wall Street Journal’s owner, Dow Jones & Co., has been a client of Mr. Kanter in the past.
Advocates of tougher enforcement of U.S. antitrust laws welcomed the news of Mr. Kanter’s nomination. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), chair of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee, said in a statement that the nominee’s “deep legal experience and history of advocating for aggressive action make him an excellent choice.”
Several critics of large technology companies Tuesday tweeted a picture of a coffee mug emblazoned with the words “Wu & Khan & Kanter,” referring to the two antitrust enforcement chiefs and White House competition policy adviser Tim Wu, another Big Tech critic who has taken a prominent role in the Biden administration.
The antitrust division at the Justice Department has been without a Senate-confirmed head since the start of the Biden administration, after the departure of former President Trump’s antitrust chief, Makan Delrahim. Mr. Delrahim pursued some aggressive enforcement actions that light-touch Republicans of earlier administrations likely wouldn’t have embraced, and built internal momentum for the Justice Department’s examination of dominant tech companies.
At a virtual panel discussion last year, Mr. Kanter praised an October 2020 House Antitrust Subcommittee report that concluded Google, Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Facebook Inc. hold monopoly power. The report criticized antitrust enforcement agencies for allowing the companies to grow unchecked.
“We have laws. Those laws are in place. Let’s enforce them. Let’s enforce them regularly with vigor, with passion, creativity and meaning,” Mr. Kanter said at the event, hosted by the advocacy group American Economic Liberties Project, which favors a breakup of large technology companies. “That is something that could change tomorrow.”
A Google representative declined to comment.
“This will move the Department of Justice from focusing primarily on consumers to focusing primarily on advancing policy and the interests of corporate competitors,” said Carl Szabo, general counsel of the trade group NetChoice, whose members include Amazon, Google and Facebook. “One of the substantial challenges before Kanter is attempting to appear impartial as the DOJ attempts to bring antitrust suits against tech firms that he either previously represented or worked against as an attorney.”
About 56% of Americans say they think major technology companies should be regulated more than they are now, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in April on a sample of 4,623 people and released on Tuesday. That is up from 47% in June 2020 and 51% in May 2018.
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