With President Joe Biden continuing to fill federal positions in the first days of his presidency, two roles that have yet to be filled are the Department of Justice’s assistant attorney general in charge of the Antitrust Division, and deputy assistant attorney general for the same division.
They’re both important roles, especially considering that one of the most pressing threats to economic competition is Silicon Valley and the size of Big Tech companies like Facebook and Google.
The division’s website says its mission statement is “to promote economic competition through enforcing and providing guidance on antitrust laws and principles.”
With that in mind, Biden has an opportunity to appoint qualified and determined individuals to these positions who are committed to holding Big Tech accountable.
Unfortunately, it appears these appointments will be among the first fumbles of his presidency.
Renata Hesse, a former Obama administration Justice Department official and attorney with experience doing work for Amazon and Google, is apparently Biden’s leading choice to run the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, The Intercept and The American Prospect reported Monday.
The Prospect and The Intercept have learned that Renata Hesse, a former Obama Justice Department official who then went on to work for Google and Amazon, is a leading contender to head up the DoJ Antitrust Division.
— David Dayen (@ddayen) January 15, 2021
Even setting aside her past experience of providing counsel to some of the world’s largest companies, if Hesse is appointed, she could be sidelined on an important lawsuit.
“Her role could pose conflict of interest issues as the Justice Department pursues its widely-followed case against Google, the sources said. The Justice Department sued Google on Oct. 20, accusing the $1 trillion company of dominating search and advertising,” Reuters reported last week.
Unnamed sources also told The Intercept that Hesse’s deputy could be Juan Arteaga, who has a history of defending companies like JPMorgan and AT&T. (Reuters and the Intercept both reported that Artega was in the running for the assistant attorney general job, though The Intercept said it’s “more likely” he gets the number two role.)
The idea that Hesse and/or Arteaga could join the DOJ’s Antitrust Division has received criticism from members of both sides of the aisle who wish to see the size and power of Silicon Valley giants fairly checked.
“The incoming Biden Admin should prioritize appointees with strong antitrust history for the DOJ’s Antitrust Division,” the progressive advocacy group MoveOn tweeted.
The incoming Biden Admin should prioritize appointees with strong antitrust history for the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, like Jonathan Kanter, a prominent critic of Big Tech. The reported consideration of corporate attorneys Renata Hesse & Juan Arteaga represent just the opposite.
— MoveOn (@MoveOn) January 18, 2021
“The leading contenders have raised anxieties among Big Tech critics that a Biden administration staffed with former tech lawyers and lobbyists deferential to their corporate interests would be a missed opportunity at a critical time to reign in the unchecked power of a runaway Silicon Valley,” added The Federalist, a conservative website.
Colorado Republican Rep. Ken Buck, meanwhile, tweeted: “Joe Biden should not be appointing someone who worked for Google and Amazon to lead the Antitrust Division.”
Joe Biden should not be appointing someone who worked for Google and Amazon to lead the Antitrust Division.
This is very concerning for those of us who want to hold Big Tech accountable. https://t.co/IKi0LyCRTO
— Congressman Ken Buck (@RepKenBuck) January 19, 2021
“This is very concerning for those of us who want to hold Big Tech accountable.”
The last thing the United States needs is two insiders and advocates for Big Tech appointed to two powerful positions that are meant to hold the tech industry accountable.
Now more than ever before, positive and civil dialogue between political parties is crucial to the success of our nation. When these Big Tech giants censor accounts that they disagree with, how can this dialogue survive?
We are a nation of checks and balances — not only in government, but whenever a force becomes so powerful that it can negatively impact the American people.
The Founding Fathers of the United States understood the dangers of unchecked power. They would certainly consider these Big Tech giants examples of the power they were trying to control.
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