Thursday, February 14, 2008
Posted by D. Daniel Sokol
This paper considers the four antitrust decisions in the Supreme Court's 2006 Term.
It offers brief discussions of Weyerhaeuser and Credit Suisse. Weyerhaeuser is a small, modest decision. The Court isn't likely to see another predatory bidding case soon and the Court chose to minimize doctrinal complexity by bringing predatory bidding analysis in sync with the Court's prior treatment of predatory pricing in Brooke Group. Credit Suisse too is minimally incremental. In concluding that federal securities law implicitly precluded claims asserting antitrust violations in the sale of new securities, the Court followed its prior decision in Gordon as well as the Court's more recent preference for regulatory schemes over antitrust as seen in Trinko. Pushing antitrust authority toward specialized regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission broadens the trade-offs that can be made between antitrust concerns and other values and almost certainly expands the circumstances under which industry actors can act collectively. That matters, so Credit Suisse covers more of the economic landscape than Weyerhaeuser, but the decision itself is a small step from prior doctrine.
Twombly and Leegin are each, in their own ways, blockbusters. Twombly will appear in case after case, as antitrust defendants try to rely on its new tougher rules for FRCP 12(b)(6) motions. Twombly represents a preference for blunt instruments over sharp edges. The central problem confronted by Twombly is discovery run amok. The Court has the tools in its hands to control that by rewriting the discovery rules and overturning lower court decisions implementing those rules. Twombly suggests that the Court believes that refinement of those rules will fail in controlling discovery and it is willing to pay the price that private plaintiffs will have no good way to get at the best-hidden antitrust conspiracies.
Finally, Leegin brings to a close - for now or forever? - the 100-year saga of contractual minimum resale price maintenance. Since its decision in 1911 in Dr. Miles, the Court has confronted this issue again and again in the slightly-refined versions that make up the art of institutional design. Over time, the Court has chipped away at Dr. Miles, first in not finding a violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act for the unilateral minimum RPM in Colgate in 1919 and in then broadly subjecting nonprice vertical restraints to rule-of-reason treatment in Sylvania in 1977. Given that, on what basis would Dr. Miles survive?
That is a question of stare decisis and Leegin ends up in an all-out fight over stare decisis in antitrust. That is new: the Court has been overturning old decisions in antitrust for some time and has done so with little stare decisis fanfare. That suggests that the dispute over stare decisis in Leegin is just a convenient forum for the larger dispute over stare decisis that is percolating through a divided Court. I don't have a full-blown theory of stare decisis but I do suggest why the Court has been mistaken to treat stare decisis in statutory cases differently from that in constitutional cases. The Court has made too little of one of its critical tools in shaping statutes, namely, the power to set a default point for subsequent congressional action. Once we treat the Court's decisions as inputs in subsequent lawmaking, there is greater reason to think that the Court should have a uniform approach to stare decisis across the Constitution and statutes.