By Barry Eitel
The Department of Justice told a federal court Thursday that it was appealing an approval of a merger between AT&T and Time Warner.
Last month, Judge Richard Leon ruled that telecommunications giant AT&T’s $85.4 billion acquisition of media behemoth Time Warner could go through despite a legal challenge from the Justice Department.
Time Warner owns a large portfolio of media outlets, including CNN and HBO.
Leon also rejected the Justice Department’s request to put the merger on hold while the case went through the appeals process. Time Warner has since been rebranded WarnerMedia.
Shares of AT&T dropped in after-hours trading, falling 1.3 percent to $32.23.
“The Court’s decision could hardly have been more thorough, fact-based, and well-reasoned,” AT&T general counsel David McAtee said in a statement.
“While the losing party in litigation always has the right to appeal if it wishes, we are surprised that the DOJ has chosen to do so under these circumstances. We are ready to defend the Court’s decision at the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.”
Beyond the brief notice signaling its intent to appeal Leon’s ruling, the Justice Department did not comment on the action.
The Justice Department argued that the merger between AT&T’s wireless business with Time Warner’s media empire would harm consumers and violated federal anti-trust law. Leon did not agree with this assessment.
"Ultimately, I conclude that the Government has failed to meet its burden to establish that the proposed transaction is likely to lessen competition substantially,” Leon wrote in his decision, which allowed for the government to file an appeal in the following 60 days.
The merger was first announced in 2016 and has been heavily criticized by President Donald Trump. The success of the acquisition will be closely watched by the entertainment industry – both Disney and Comcast have offered substantial bids for the television and movie studios of 21st Century Fox.