Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, Howard [Feller], for those kind words – and for your outstanding leadership of the ABA Section of Antitrust Law. The Antitrust Section – and the Spring Meeting in particular – provides a vital channel for fostering dialogue between practitioners and scholars, for extending the collective expertise of Section members, and for enhancing overall compliance with antitrust laws in the United States and around the world. I’m grateful to have this opportunity to be with you today and to be a part of this special gathering.
It’s an honor to stand with so many valued friends and colleagues; talented members of the antitrust bar; and distinguished public leaders representing enforcement authorities at all levels, domestic and international – including the panel members I know you are eager to hear from next. And it’s a great privilege to join you at what is both an exciting moment for antitrust enforcement generally and a reflective moment for me personally. Because my own professional path will soon lead me in a new direction, I have had the opportunity lately to take stock of all that the hardworking men and women of the Justice Department – and our remarkable Antitrust Division – have achieved over the last six years.
When I took office as Attorney General in 2009 – in the aftermath of a global financial crisis, and in the midst of deep and widespread economic uncertainty – one of my central priorities was to bring strength and fairness to the rules by which our commercial enterprises operate. And a core focus was protecting our citizens and ensuring fair competition throughout the American marketplace. As former Attorney General Robert Kennedy noted over half a century ago, the antitrust laws of this nation are designed to protect and to vindicate the principles of free enterprise – principles that, as he said, “underlie the whole structure of a free society.” They are a vital safeguard for competition, fundamental to the structure of our economy, and they contribute directly to the prosperity of our nation and the economic freedom of our citizens. Their enforcement is in the interest of all those who believe in free markets; their values bear no partisan stripe or political creed; and their promises of competition, innovation, and growth are woven into the fabric not only of this country, but of all those that have adopted antitrust regimes based on these shared values.
This Administration’s commitment to vigorous antitrust enforcement extends as far back as September 2007 when then-Senator Barack Obama vowed that, if he were elected President, he would step up enforcement activity in a comprehensive way “to ensure that the benefits of competition are fully realized by consumers.” That’s exactly what we’ve done. For the past six years, we have worked tirelessly to realize antitrust law’s promise of robust marketplaces and fair competition. We have approached threats to that promise as level-headed law enforcers making considered judgments on the merits, always guided by economic common sense and fidelity to the law. And where we have found violations, we have been prepared to litigate in full, no matter how complex the case, in defense of the American consumer and in pursuit of the cause of justice.
On the criminal side, the scale, the scope and the impact of our enforcement efforts are unprecedented. In the most recent fiscal year, we obtained a record tally of fines and penalties – totaling nearly $1.3 billion. We have undertaken the largest criminal investigation in antitrust history in order to root out price fixing and bid rigging in the auto parts industry. And we have increased the average number of corporate executives sentenced to serve time for antitrust crimes to 29 per year, while lengthening their average sentence to over two years. Whether it involves price fixing of computer components or bid rigging in real estate foreclosure auctions, we have pursued all forms of criminal conduct – running the gamut from local wrongdoing to transnational crime.
All told, through the extraordinary leadership of dedicated Assistant Attorneys General like Bill Baer – and former leaders of the Antitrust Division like Christine Varney, Sharis Pozen, Joe Wayland and Renata Hesse, who I’m delighted to have with us today – the Antitrust Division’s criminal program has prosecuted 385 individuals and 129 corporations over the course of the Obama Administration. We have obtained more than $5 billion in fines and penalties, which have been a major contributor to the Justice Department’s Crime Victim Fund, helping victims of all types of crime access the medical, legal, financial and other services they need to move forward with their lives. And through our tireless efforts, we have sent a clear and consistent message to all those who would take advantage of American consumers, exploit our markets, or subvert our laws: the Antitrust Division will not tolerate their dishonest and destructive behavior. In that regard, I expect that there will be more significant news on the criminal side within the next few weeks.
Of course, while the criminal program has proven itself as an intrepid and hard-charging component of our fight to maintain competition in the marketplace, there is no doubt that the civil side has kept pace at every juncture. We have challenged numerous mergers that were likely to substantially reduce competition in critical sectors of the American economy, including mobile wireless, airlines and beer – a market in which Bill [Baer] demonstrated a deep interest and a curious expertise. Two mergers foundered at trial, while many others were abandoned or entirely restructured as a result of our enforcement measures.
We also successfully challenged an array of non-merger business practices that distorted the competitive process and threatened to harm the marketplace. Everyone in this room knows about some of the most prominent examples of our success, like our trial-court victory against Apple over the pricing of e-books and our more recent win against American Express, whose contractual restraints have long stifled competition between credit card companies. But more important than the victories themselves is the message they send to businesses everywhere. No matter how lengthy the investigation, no matter how challenging the environment and no matter how complex the practice or industry at hand, we will never shrink from litigation nor shirk our sacred responsibility to uphold the laws of our nation and protect the consumer. For the United States Department of Justice, there is no unlawful conduct too complicated to pursue, and no company or individual too large or too powerful to be held accountable for actions that harm the American people.
I’m tremendously proud of the inspiring individual efforts and the collective accomplishments of the Antitrust Division these last six years, as well as those of our enforcement partners at the FTC, in state governments, and around the world. We have been committed to smart, rigorous, and assertive antitrust enforcement across all sectors of our economy. And as we move forward, executives worldwide surely know that this Antitrust Division and its partners stand ready to do what is necessary to protect consumer welfare.
Although my time at the Justice Department will soon draw to a close, the Department’s commitment to effective antitrust enforcement and to the critical values it advances will not waver. As the Antitrust Division carries its work into the future – and resolves to continue building on the extraordinary record of achievement I’ve highlighted today – I urge you all to stay engaged, to adhere to the high standards of this important area of the law, and to never lose sight of this country’s founding commitments to liberty and to justice.
In the appropriate enforcement of the antitrust laws we make real the promise of our democracy and our founding documents. Vigorous competition in all spheres is what makes this nation exceptional. It makes progress more likely and promotes the general welfare. The desire to make the promise of competition real has been at the heart of our efforts these past six years. I close by expressing again the pride I have in the women and men of our Antitrust this Division who have done truly historic things in service to the American people. When the history of this era is written it will be said that this Division – at this time – made our nation more open, more just and more ready to confront the economic issues of the day. That will be high praise – but because of my colleagues’ dedication, their vision – it will be well deserved.