Justice Department appealing OK of AT&T-Time Warner merger
WASHINGTON — Stung by a federal judge’s dismissal of its objections to AT&T’s megamerger with Time Warner, the Trump Justice Department is challenging the decision with a legal appeal.
The Justice Department said in a one-sentence document Thursday it is appealing the ruling last month by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, which blessed one of the biggest media deals ever following a landmark antitrust trial.
Leon rejected the government’s argument that the phone and pay-TV giant’s $81 billion takeover of the entertainment conglomerate would hurt competition, limit choices and jack up prices for consumers to stream TV and movies.
Leon’s ruling allowed Dallasbased AT&T Inc. to absorb the owner of CNN, HBO, the Warner Bros. movie studio, Game
of Thrones, coveted sports programming and other “must-see” shows.
The Justice Department’s appeal is lodged with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a step up from the federal district court where the six-week trial unfolded in the spring.
The merger was swiftly consummated, just two days after Leon’s June 12 ruling and almost as soon as the Justice Department signaled it wouldn’t seek to temporarily block the merger while it pondered an appeal. The deadline for closing the merger was June 21.
Some legal experts believe the government could have a hard time convincing the appeals court to overturn Leon’s ruling. Opposing the merger forced the federal antitrust regulators to argue against standing legal doctrine that favors mergers among compete companies directly with that each don’t other. That type of combination is called a vertical merger. It was the first time in decades the government had challenged that doctrine by suing to block a vertical merger. Leon “tried his best to make it appeal-proof,” said Fiona Schaeffer, an antitrust attorney at Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy. Still, the Justice Department apparently believes it has an adequate legal basis to show an error in Leon’s ruling, Schaeffer said.