Senate Judiciary Committee advances bipartisan antitrust bill aimed at Google, Facebook

The bill would make it more difficult for antitrust suits to be moved to courts that are more sympathetic to the defendants
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Mike Lee
Utah GOP Sen. Mike Lee on Capitol Hill
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

A bill that would allow state attorneys general to select which courts hear their antitrust cases advanced Thursday out of the Senate Judiciary Committee with broad bipartisan support.

The State Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act is sponsored by Sens. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota Democrat, and Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, the committee's top antitrust legislators, both of whom are themselves attorneys.

The politicians believe the bill will prevent state antitrust cases from being moved to courts that are favored by defendants and combined with private lawsuits.

The bill is one of a several being taken up by Congress this year pertaining to antitrust regulations surrounding Big Tech.

"This bill would simply strengthen enforcement of our antitrust laws," Klobuchar said.

State attorneys general widely support the bill, as well as some of the other congressional efforts to update antitrust legislation.

In addition to pending suits again Google, state AGs are pursuing an antitrust case against Facebook, which was initially dismissed by a federal judge, but is being appealed. 

But, some committee members have concerns about the retroactive application of the law to already pending cases.

California Democrat Sen. Alex Padilla voiced concern over the impact the bill could have on an ongoing Texas-led antitrust case against Google, which was moved over the summer to a court in New York. 

Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn shared some of Padilla's concerns. 

"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," he said.

Lee and Klobuchar stood by the retroactive application of the law, saying that from a legalistic standpoint, it changes only procedural rules not substantive legal standards. 

Removing the retroactive portion of the law would "only help Google, which wants to do everything it possibly ca to slow down the prosecution and keep the case as far away from Texas as possible," said Lee.

He also said: "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." 

Google and Facebook have been aggressive in their contestation of allegations of anti-competitive behavior and practices.