After a lengthy confirmation process, Makan Delrahim has been confirmed by the Senate to serve as the next U.S. Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ’s Antitrust Division. While President Donald Trump originally announced Delrahim’s nomination back on March 27, 2017, the confirmation process has been slowed due to paperwork issues and opposition by some lawmakers in Washington, D.C. over the past few months.
Delrahim will have plenty to do as he takes the helm of the Antitrust Division. Perhaps most notably, he must determine how the DOJ will proceed with regards to AT&T’s proposed takeover of Time Warner. While President Trump publicly opposed the merger during his campaign, Delrahim has been more measured in his comments, noting back in October 2016: “Just the sheer size of it and the fact that it’s media, I think will get a lot of attention. . . . However, I don’t see this as a major antitrust problem.”
Delrahim also faces the prospect of leading the Antitrust Division through a period of austerity. Next year, the DOJ will see a proposed $1.1 billion cut—a 3.8% reduction from its current funding levels—based on President Trump’s most recent budget proposal. While the budget maintains the Antitrust Division’s level of funding at $165 million, the Division has proposed staffing reductions to follow President Trump’s request for government agencies to cut their workforce. The Division’s proposal would eliminate 135 positions, including 45 attorneys, leading to a 16% reduction in staff compared with the prior fiscal year.
Naturally, these cuts may require Delrahim to adjust the agency’s enforcement goals and priorities. Of course, the Division has maintained that it will still remain active in certain areas such as merger and cartel enforcement. Delrahim also seems likely to carry over the previous administration’s push for greater international cooperation among antitrust enforcement agencies.
That said, one area where Delrahim might take a different approach will be the Division’s application of antitrust enforcement to IP-related issues. For decades, Delrahim has been critical of the overapplication of antitrust law to the exercise of IP rights. In 2007, he criticized the Antirust Modernization Commission’s approach to standard setting and cautioned that “without more guidance, the Commission’s recommendation will have a potential to be misinterpreted and ultimately result in reduced innovation.” Given his past statements, it would not be surprising if Delrahim changes the way that the Antitrust Division enforces antitrust law to IP-related issues.
Ultimately, Delrahim will arrive at the Antitrust Division as a high-caliber antitrust attorney dedicated to free-market principles, market efficiencies, and global innovation. Only time will tell whether he will successfully manage the agency’s enforcement goals and priorities.
The full press release from the DOJ can be found here.