Regarding the Sept. 7 front-page article “California auto pact faces legal broadside”:
As an antitrust lawyer, I counsel clients that foreign countries sometimes use their antitrust laws for political purposes. Now, U.S. businesses have to be told that our own Justice Department can do the same thing. We were supposed to be free of this.
In 1971, President Richard M. Nixon ordered the Justice Department to go easy on I.T.T. in an antitrust case in return for a $400,000 contribution. The response was the Tunney Act, which allows the public to scrutinize an antitrust settlement before it is finalized. However, President Trump apparently ordered the Justice Department to block AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner because of his disdain for CNN. Now, we have a spurious investigation of the automakers’ settlement with California in which they agreed to higher emissions standards than what Mr. Trump wants.
Long-recognized antitrust principles protect the right of competitors to jointly petition the government for government regulation of the market. The automakers that negotiated with California were almost certainly acting according to those standards. That the Justice Department, to cater to an obsessed president, would come up with a contrived notion that this was a sham for raising prices is shameful. In investigating the automakers with the concurrence of a spineless attorney general, we have entered into serious territory where our legal institutions are undermined.
Edward Correia, Bethesda
The writer is a former chief counsel for the
Senate Antitrust Subcommittee.
Why is the Justice Department suddenly investigating four big automakers over their agreement with California to maintain higher fuel-efficiency standards? After all, that agreement shouldn’t create an antitrust problem. Competitors such as those automakers have always been permitted to collaborate under U.S. antitrust laws as long as it’s pro-competitive, meaning that the collaboration helps them produce goods or services that are cheaper, more valuable to consumers or brought to market faster. Their joint agreement is even less likely to facilitate problematic collusion harmful to consumers because they are working with a sovereign state that explicitly has legal authority under the Clean Air Act to write stricter air pollution rules.
So can it be that the administration intends to retaliate against California for other reasons, such as the barrage of lawsuits the state has filed against it? The losers here are not these automakers, faced with sanctions for simply attempting to comply with wildly disparate federal and state fuel-efficiency standards, but all U.S. businesses that rely on the Justice Department and other federal agencies to enforce the laws consistently and evenhandedly.
Stephanie Kanwit, Alexandria
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