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Obsessively antitech, Congress threatens innovation and judicial integrity

Now is not the time to hamstring the companies that will be central to our economic recovery.

The United States Capitol building
The United States Capitol building
REUTERS/Sarah Silbiger

Despite the undeniably critical role that technology has played in propping up our economy this past year and a half, Congress has kept technology companies in its crosshairs — to an obsessive degree. With lawmakers back in Washington after their August recess, it’s worth examining not only what is at stake if these so-called “antitrust hawks” prevail, but also how their political motivations could impact the integrity of our economy and judicial system.

Earlier this summer, members of the House Judiciary Committee advanced a package of antitrust bills aimed at the technology sector following dozens of hearings and countless hours focused on attacking the technology companies. And their push is not over, as some impassioned members of Congress look to continue their vendetta against tech companies in the weeks ahead.

The legislative effort is problematic for a number of reasons. First, it represents a complete market shift that discourages innovation and punishes leading innovators who have undoubtedly buoyed our economy this past year. The current regulatory framework in the United States has produced some of the most successful and innovative companies in the entire world, many of which have maintained investments in communities across the country and provided the digital services that proved critical during the pandemic.

We should appreciate the difficulties faced by Congress when it comes to balancing market competition with American competitiveness. But now is hardly the time to hamstring the companies that will be central to our economic recovery, particularly when it is those very companies that have fixed the U.S. tech economy atop the globe in terms of innovative products, high-paying jobs and economic output.

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With so much talk about American competitiveness with China, Russia and others coming from lawmakers today in Washington, it’s perplexing to see them attempt to actively handicap the companies that maintain our competitive edge. One particularly curious bill as part of this congressional “summer of antitrust” is the Antitrust Enforcement Venue Act of 2021, which essentially allows state attorneys general to bring separate (yet identical) lawsuits against technology companies to courts across the country. Despite the minefield of potential competing court rulings and dangerous precedent this legislation could set, it’s not surprising that some lawmakers are pushing to have lawsuits against technology companies heard in courts that skew against those technology companies.

What is surprising, however, is how some congressional leaders have engaged the federal court system directly. In July, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts sent a letter to congressional leadership requesting a delay in further consideration of the legislation until the judicial system had proper time to analyze its impacts. Rightfully so.

Mark Drake
Mark Drake
But congressional leaders, including Minnesota’s Sen. Amy Klobuchar, responded with a letter of their own, unsurprisingly defending the merits of the legislation.

Curiously, a chief argument made in the letter is that the judge’s letter “mirrors” the arguments made by the technology sector’s opposition position to the bill. Is it not feasibly possible that the courts are indeed aligned with a company’s position, particularly when a piece of legislation so drastically impacts the judicial system? Further, is Congress encroaching on the court system by imposing a significant overhaul of its litigation proceeding practices, in the interest of its ongoing, politically motivated pursuits against tech?

These are questions that, despite the flurry of reporting around this congressional activity, have not been adequately addressed. At a time when so many Minnesotans are just getting back on their feet, lawmakers should be focused on encouraging further digitalization of small businesses and expanding partnerships with technology companies. Denigration of the technology sector and pursuing politically motivated overhauls of our antitrust framework are poorly timed.

Mark Drake is a veteran communications and research professional who has held senior communications and research positions in support of presidential, statewide and local political candidates. He lives in West St. Paul.

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