U.S. case against Google seen benefiting from Obama-nominated judge

Diane Bartz and David Shepardson
·3 min read
FILE PHOTO: A Google search page is seen through a magnifying glass in this photo illustration taken in Berlin
FILE PHOTO: A Google search page is seen through a magnifying glass in this photo illustration taken in Berlin

By Diane Bartz and David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The selection of U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, nominated to the court by President Barack Obama, to hear the U.S. Justice Department's case against Alphabet's Google, suggests a tough courtroom battle ahead for the $1-trillion search and advertising company.

The U.S. Justice Department is accusing Alphabet's Google of illegally using its market muscle to hobble rivals like Microsoft's Bing in search and search advertising. The lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday, is the biggest challenge to the power and influence of Big Tech in decades.

Mehta, who was randomly selected, is not seen as pro-business or favorable to monopolies, said Sally Hubbard, who advocates for tougher antitrust enforcement at the Open Markets Institute.

"We have a judge that is not hostile to antitrust, so this is a really good moment for the case," she said.

Google had no comment on Mehta's selection. The search and advertising company has called the lawsuit "deeply flawed," adding that people "use Google because they choose to - not because they're forced to or because they can't find alternatives."

In its lawsuit, the Justice Department is taking on an iconic company that has become all but synonymous with the internet and assumed a central role in the day-to-day lives of billions of people. The case is likely to take years to resolve.

Sam Weinstein, who teaches antitrust at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, noted that Mehta had ruled for the government in blocking the merger of Sysco and U.S. Foods in 2015, shortly after he was confirmed in late 2014. The deal was abandoned.

"If I were betting on this, I would say that it's better for the government than for Google," said Weinstein, who added: "In any individual case, it's hard to pin too much on the judge."

Andre Barlow of the law firm Doyle, Barlow & Mazard PLLC, agreed that Mehta's selection was "good news for the government" but warned that the case against Google is a monopolization case, which tend to be harder to win than merger cases.

Mehta was previously a partner at the law firm Zuckerman Spaeder LLP. He was born in India in 1971 and moved to the United States at the age of 1. He also worked as a public defender in Washington for five years.

The federal lawsuit that was filed on Tuesday marks a rare moment of agreement between the Trump administration and progressive Democrats. U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren tweeted on Sept. 10, using the hashtag #BreakUpBigTech, that she wanted "swift, aggressive action."

Still, coming just days before the U.S. presidential election, the filing's timing could be seen as a political gesture since it fulfills a promise made by President Donald Trump to his supporters to hold certain companies to account for allegedly stifling conservative voices.

Republican lawmakers have sought, without explaining how, to use antitrust laws to compel Big Tech to stop these alleged limitations.

The antitrust case could deliver a huge opportunity for Microsoft Corp to increase usage of its Bing search engine, an unexpected epilogue years after it abandoned a long campaign for legal relief.

(Reporting by Diane Bartz, Paresh Dave, David Shepardson and Nandita Bose; Editing by Nick Zieminski)