It is not looking great for the Justice Department appeal of the AT&T-Time Warner merger

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The Justice Department urged a federal appeals court to reconsider AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner, arguing that the judge who approved the deal in June misunderstood fundamental economic principles and ignored how AT&T could unfairly extract higher fees from rivals by threatening to black out popular TV channels. The Department of Justice delivered oral arguments in its appeal of a lower court decision that handed the agency a major defeat in one of the most closely followed antitrust trials in decades. The blockbuster case — the first time since the Nixon era that the government has gone to court to challenge this type of deal — was seen as a landmark legal dispute because it signaled how regulators and courts might treat mergers between companies that don’t compete with each other.

“A threat of blackout will allow Time Warner to increase the prices for its rivals,” said government attorney Michael Murray. But the three-judge appeals panel was quick to push back on the government’s case, questioning how the lower court failed to apply the law properly in siding with AT&T. "You have to show that there was plain error in the district court,” Judge David Sentelle of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit told the government’s side. “You have to show that there is going to be a harm to competition.” Judge Sentelle added that the government had to present evidence beyond economic theories to show that the merger would substantially lessen competition. Judge Judith Rogers also expressed skepticism as she prodded the government’s case.

It is not looking great for the Justice Department appeal of the AT&T-Time Warner merger DOJ Gets Going-Over in AT&T-TW Oral Argument (B&C) Judges grill DOJ over challenge to AT&T-Time Warner merger (The Hill) Judges grill DOJ on claims that District Court erred in approval of AT&T-Time Warner merger (CNN) Government Faces Skeptical Judges in AT&T Appeal (WSJ)