Justice Pushes for Expedited AT&T-Time Warner Arguments

Says delay would cause irreparable harm as unlawful combo integrates operations
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U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)

U.S. Department of Justice building

The Justice Department is urging a D.C. federal appeals court to expedite its appeal of a D.C. district court's decision to let AT&T buy Time Warner, a deal Justice had sued to block saying it violated antitrust laws.

In a filing with the appeals court, Justice again said that if the two are allowed to combine it will give it the ability and incentive to raise costs to rivals and stifle next-generation competition.

Justice said the district court committed multiple errors including ignoring basic economics.

Related: DOJ's AT&T Appeal Affects Battle for Fox

Justice said any delay in resolving its appeal of that decision will cause irreparable injury because the deal has closed and every day allows the companies to become more entwined. 

"[T]his Court and others have recognized that unwinding a merger to restore competition can be extremely difficult," DOJ said. "[E]very day that they are allowed to combine aspects of their businesses more deeply will make it more difficult for this Court and the district court on remand to unwind the merger and preserve competition."

AT&T has pledged to keep the Turner network assets separate from the rest of the company, but only until February 2019, Justice said, after which the combined company could start using that programming leverage if the case is not resolved.

DOJ also warned that the decision has already "ignited" other mergers; it cited the Disney-21st Century Fox deal (and the now dropped Comcast bid for the Fox assets) for one. It said the court should clarify the law governing reviews of vertical mergers before Justice starts reviewing those.

Related: Comcast Drops Pursuit of 21st Century Fox Assets

The judge, Richard Leon, actually said his ruling was very fact-specific and suggested it was not a referendum on vertical mergers in general.

Justice proposed the following briefing schedule, which it said AT&T-Time Warner did not oppose:

  • Government’s Opening Brief: August 6
  • Defendants’ Answering Brief: September 20 (45 days later)
  • Government’s Reply Brief: October 11 (21 days later) 
  • Deferred Joint Appendix: October 11
  • Final Briefs: October 18 (7 days later)

Justice wants the court to schedule oral argument as soon after Oct. 18 as possible.