The U.S. Justice Department can fast-track its appeal of a judge’s ruling that allowed AT&T to acquire Time Warner, as a federal appeals court on Thursday approved the department’s request for an expedited schedule.
The DOJ lodged its appeal of the $85.4 billion deal last week with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and on Wednesday asked for a swift schedule. The now approved timetable (which AT&T did not oppose) is as followed:
- Government’s Opening Brief: Aug. 6
- Defendants’ Answering Brief: Sept. 20
- Government’s Reply Brief: Oct. 11
- Deferred Joint Appendix: Oct. 11
- Final Briefs: Oct. 18
As requested by the DOJ, oral arguments will happen “as soon as practicable” after Oct. 18.
In its request, the Justice Department said that U.S. District Judge Richard Leon’s decision approving the merger “rejected fundamental principles of economics” and that “the district court’s disregard of economic reasoning constitutes reversible error.”
“If AT&T is permitted to control Time Warner’s most valuable media assets, the merged firm will have both the incentive and the ability to raise its rivals’ costs and stifle growth of innovation, next-generation entrants that offer attractive alternatives to AT&T/DirecTV’s legacy pay-TV model – all to the detriment of American consumers,” the DOJ said in its recent filing.
The Justice Department had argued for the expedited schedule saying “every day that they [AT&T-Time Warner] are allowed to combine aspects of their businesses more deeply will make it more difficult for this Court and the district court on remand to unwind the merger and preserve competition.”
AT&T and Time Warner quickly closed their deal two days after Judge Leon’s June 12 ruling, but agreed to keep Time Warner’s Tuner networks separate from AT&T until Feb. 28, 2019 or the end of any appeal, whichever comes first.
Many don’t think the Justice Department will be successful in its appeal and AT&T General Counsel David McAtee said in a statement that Leon’s decision “could hardly have been more thorough, fact-based, and well-reasoned.”
Also last week AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said the development would not alter the company’s post-merger plans for its newly acquired media assets.
“This changes nothing we’ll be doing over the next 30 days or the next 12 months. We’re about executing our plan. We think the likelihood of this thing being reversed and overturned is really remote,” Stephenson told CNBC in an interview. “The merger is closed. We own Time Warner.”