(Bloomberg) -- Lina Khan, a legal scholar who has helped lead a movement for more forceful antitrust enforcement against U.S. technology giants, was confirmed by the Senate to a seat on the Federal Trade Commission.
Khan’s confirmation on Tuesday by a vote of 69-28 solidifies her meteoric rise from law student a few years ago to the top ranks of U.S. antitrust enforcement, where she will have an influential voice on how far the government goes in regulating dominant tech firms.
Although she will be just one vote on the five-member agency, Khan’s confirmation gives Democrats majority control of the commission, and she joins two Democrats -- Acting Chairwoman Rebecca Kelly Slaughter and Rohit Chopra -- who have long sought to pursue a more aggressive antitrust agenda.
Khan, a 32-year-old Columbia Law School professor, rose to prominence with a 2017 research paper on Amazon.com Inc. that she wrote as a law student at Yale University. The paper casts the online retail giant as a harmful monopoly and argues that the company employs practices that should provoke a rethink of antitrust enforcement in the U.S.
Her work put her at the forefront of an anti-monopoly movement known as the New Brandeis School that says the traditional playbook for policing mergers and anticompetitive conduct has failed, leading to concentrated economic and political power across the economy.
Once on the fringes of antitrust thinking, support for breaking up tech firms and calls for reforming antitrust laws have gone mainstream. Last week, House lawmakers introduced a series of bills that would put new restrictions on how tech firms operate and in some cases force them to exit certain businesses.
Still, Khan has her detractors. When she first emerged as a possible candidate for the FTC, Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah called her views on antitrust “wildly out of step with a prudent approach to the law.”
Khan’s nomination in March and the appointment of her Columbia colleague Tim Wu as White House adviser on competition policy signaled President Joe Biden was preparing to take a tougher approach to antitrust enforcement. But nearly five months into his administration, Biden has yet to nominate a leader for the Justice Department’s antitrust division, which shares antitrust enforcement with the FTC. He also hasn’t named a permanent chairman of the FTC.
Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel, which would consider Biden’s choice for the antitrust division, said in an interview that she hopes the administration nominates someone for the position soon.
“The fact they put in Tim Wu and Lina Khan really shows that they’re interested in seriously taking on these issues,” she said.
The FTC’s Democratic majority with Slaughter, Chopra and Khan may be short-lived. Biden nominated Chopra to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He is still awaiting Senate confirmation after the Senate Banking Committee in March split on his nomination along party lines.
At her confirmation hearing, Khan told lawmakers that antitrust enforcers need to scrutinize the power that large technology companies have over digital markets, from app stores to online journalism. She called out the dominance that Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google have over app stores on mobile devices, saying terms like Apple taking 30% of the revenue earned by some developers can’t be justified.
“The source of the power is the fact that you have basically these two main options, and so that gives these companies the power to really set the terms in this market,” she said. “Certain terms and conditions really lack any type of beneficial justification.”
After law school, Khan worked at anti-monopoly think tank Open Markets Institute and as an adviser to Chopra at the FTC. She was also counsel to the House antitrust committee, which last year concluded an investigation of Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook Inc.
Khan was one of the authors of the panel’s report on the investigation, which accused the tech firms of abusing their roles as gatekeepers in the digital economy and in the process eroding innovation, entrepreneurship, privacy and consumer choice. It also included a series of recommendations for reforms to antitrust laws.