Senate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook

Senate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook
© Greg Nash

A bill to let state attorneys general pick which courts hear their antitrust cases advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday with broad bipartisan support, but some senators raised concerns about the retroactive portions in the bill. 

The State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act is a companion bill to a proposal that advanced out of committee in the House earlier this year along with a series of antitrust proposals. 

The bill’s sponsors, top antitrust subcommittee Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharBiden should seek some ideological diversity House passes bipartisan bills to strengthen network security, cyber literacy Klobuchar confident spending bill will be finished before Christmas MORE (D-Minn.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeCongress averts shutdown after vaccine mandate fight On The Money — Congress races to keep the lights on House sets up Senate shutdown showdown MORE (R-Utah.), said it would prevent state antitrust cases from being moved to courts preferred by defendants and consolidated with private suits. 

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“This bill would simply strengthen effective enforcement of our antitrust laws,” Klobuchar said. 

The bill advanced by a voice vote. Although the main proposal in the bill had broad support from committee members, a handful of senators highlighted concerns about the bill being able to be applied retroactively. 

Sen. Alex PadillaAlex Padilla91 House Dems call on Senate to expand immigration protections in Biden spending bill Senators call for Smithsonian Latino, women's museums to be built on National Mall Historic immigration reform included in House-passed spending bill MORE (D-Calif.) offered an amendment to change the retroactive application, but then quickly withdrew it. He said he would work with the bill’s sponsors ahead of the proposal advancing to a full Senate vote. 

Padilla underscored his concerns based on the impact it could have on the ongoing Texas-led antitrust case against Google, which was moved to New York over the summer. 

“I am in favor of finding ways to make the work of our judicial system more efficient and more effective but we need to be clear that our efforts aren’t or don't interfere in active politically charged litigation,” Padilla said. 

Committee Chairman Dick DurbinDick DurbinConservatives target Biden pick for New York district court Democrats, GOP pitch parliamentarian on immigration policies in spending bill Senate parliamentarian looms over White House spending bill MORE (D-Ill.) and Sen. John CornynJohn CornynHouse passes bill to expedite financial disclosures from judges McConnell leaves GOP in dark on debt ceiling Congress's goal in December: Avoid shutdown and default MORE (R-Texas) echoed Padilla’s concerns about the retroactive portion of the bill. 

Klobuchar and Lee defended the retroactive application of the bill, arguing it only changes procedural rules not substantive legal standards. 

Lee said any attempt to remove the retroactive portion would “only help Google, which wants to do everything it possibly can to slow down the prosecution and keep the case as far away from Texas as possible.” 

“If we want to have a vote this morning on whether or not to help Google that’s fine by me, my position though is if Texas wants to sue Google in Texas to protect Texans, it should be able to do so. The same goes for Utah, or California, or any other state,” Lee said. 

The proposal has wide support from state attorneys general. Just days before the committee’s vote on the proposal, a coalition of attorneys general sent a letter to House and Senate leaders backing the bill and other proposals put forward to update antitrust laws. 

In addition to cases against Google, state attorneys general are pursuing an antitrust case against Facebook. The states’ complaint against Facebook was dismissed by a federal judge, but the attorneys general are appealing the decision. 

Both Google and Facebook have pushed back on allegations of anti-competitive behavior.