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Shortly after Jonathan Kanter After taking over the Justice Department's antitrust division in November 2021, the agency got an additional $50 million to investigate monopolies, crack down on criminal cartels and block mergers.

To celebrate, Kanter bought a giant check, posted it outside his office, and wrote on the memo line on the check: “Break 'Em Up.”

Kanter, 50, has pushed that philosophy ever since, becoming one of the chief architects of the most significant effort in decades to fight the concentration of power in corporate America. On Thursday he dealt his biggest blow when the Justice Department filed a antitrust lawsuit against Apple. In the 88-page lawsuit, the government argued that Apple had violated antitrust laws with practices aimed at keeping customers dependent on their iPhones and less likely to switch to competing devices.

That lawsuit joins two Justice Department antitrust cases. against google who argue that the company illegally propped up monopolies. Kanter's staff has also challenged numerous corporate mergers, including a lawsuit to block JetBlue Airways from purchasing Spirit Airlines.

“We want to help real people by making sure our antitrust laws work for workers, work for consumers, work for business owners and work to protect our democratic values,” Kanter said in an interview in January. She declined to comment on the Google cases and other active litigation.

in a Press conference Regarding Apple's lawsuit on Thursday, Kanter compared the action to previous Justice Department challenges to Standard Oil, AT&T and Microsoft. The lawsuit aims to protect “the market from innovations that we cannot yet perceive,” she said.

Mr. Kanter and Lina Khan, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, has taken action against four of the six largest public technology companies, in a broad campaign to curb the power of the industry. The FTC has filed separate antitrust lawsuits against Goalthe owner of Facebook and Instagram, and Amazon.

But Kanter and Khan are against the clock to see how far they can take their efforts. The November election could remove President Biden from the White House and take Kanter and Khan with it.

More than two dozen people who know Kanter, including current and former Justice Department employees, described his two-decade rise. Some spoke anonymously to describe confidential government deliberations and presentations.

Mr. Kanter grew up in the Queens, New York, apartment where his parents still live. After graduating from Forest Hills High School, he attended the State University of New York at Albany and then law school at Washington University in St. Louis.

“I grew up in a neighborhood with school teachers, police officers, taxi drivers, businessmen and people who worked very hard,” he said, and did so with the “belief that the American dream really provided openings and opportunities to achieve a better life for all”. future generations.”

He said he connected antitrust enforcement to those values ​​because “it's about ensuring that those opportunities are available to everyone and that people can be successful on their own merits.”

After earning his law degree, Kanter worked at the FTC before joining large law firms such as Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, and Paul Weiss. At one point, he represented Microsoft. When the company launched a crackdown on Google, which had eaten its lunch with online search, Kanter said in Washington that Google deserved extra scrutiny.

He later made similar arguments to other Google critics, such as News Corp and Yelp, and said regulators should investigate other tech giants as well. At the same time, he advocated corporate mergers in separate industries.

Kanter's work against some of the tech giants won him a following among those who believed that antitrust laws were an essential tool for making the economy fairer.

“Here was a source who had also come to very similar conclusions,” Khan said in an interview in November.

After his nomination was confirmed by Biden, Kanter, who often prefers formal peak lapels and once wore a Photoshoot A. Lange & Söhne dress watch that sells for $34,500, presented its plan for the antitrust division to its staff, people with knowledge of the presentation said.

Kanter branded his initiatives with catchy code names. A plan for the agency to quickly intervene in active legal cases earned Generation Z the nickname “Real Time AF,” short for real-time antitrust filings. He called the plan to investigate top corporate executives the “Billion Dollar Accountability Project.”

Kanter told his team that at any given time, he wanted the department to be able to handle 30 civil lawsuits and another 30 criminal cases. He called the plan “30 for 30.”

The agency was already stretched thin, and some staff members felt Kanter was setting unreasonable goals, people with knowledge of the matter said.

His time in private practice also cast a shadow. Initially, Kanter did not work on lawsuits against Google because she had spent years representing its rivals. When he can't work on cases, including the challenge to JetBlue's purchase of Spirit, they are run by his top deputy, Doha Mekki.

Still, Kanter has been proactive in lawsuits against the tech giants.

As a Google antitrust case over online search On the way to trial last year, he told government lawyers to be more explicit and prominent with their argument that the size of the company's operations entrenched his power and made it harder for rivals to compete, two people with knowledge said. of the matter. That idea was a central theme when the the case was tried in a Washington courtroom last fall. (A ruling is expected later this year.)

Kanter also oversaw the final months of the Justice Department's investigation into Google's control over online advertising technology. She argued to colleagues that the government should push for the lawsuit to be decided by a jury rather than a judge, which has been the norm in similar civil cases, a person familiar with the matter said. A jury trial is scheduled to begin in September.

Kanter's work has been closely scrutinized by critics who question whether he and his compatriots are pushing the limits of antitrust law too far, harming the economy.

William Kovacic, a law professor at George Washington University and former FTC chairman, said Kanter had yet to score a victory in the type of widespread monopoly lawsuit the agency was pursuing against Apple and Google.

“In a way, he's still looking for that most notable trophy to put on the mantelpiece,” he said. “If you win one of these monopolization cases, you can take the rest of the decade off.”

In the January interview, Kanter defended his push to change the way the agency did business. He said the world had changed radically in the last 30 years. People communicate using new media, obtain information from different sources, and conduct business on emerging platforms.

“It's important that if we're going to have antitrust enforcement that's fit for purpose in a modern economy, we recognize those changes,” he said. “And then we adapt to ensure that we are enforcing the letter of the antitrust law and applicable precedents. But we are enforcing the law in a way that reflects the realities of today's economy.”

Tripp Mickle contributed reporting from San Francisco. Jack Begg contributed to the research.

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