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Academic Articles Awards > General Antitrust

The Implied Antitrust Immunity

Barak Orbach, Arizona Legal Studies Discussion Paper No. 14-16, 2014

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In 1963, Richard Posner, then Justice William Brennan’s motivated clerk, drafted for the Supreme Court the iconic United States v. Philadelphia National Bank (“PNB”) decision. Addressing a set of issues in antitrust and regulation, Posner introduced several important doctrinal innovations and clarifications. Among others, PNB emphasized the primacy of competition over regulation and framed the implied antitrust immunity as a clear antitrust presumption: “Repeals of the antitrust laws by implication from a regulatory statute are strongly disfavored.”

The logic of the implied antitrust immunity has not changed much since its early days: the doctrine’s primary rationale is the elimination of conflicts between administrative agencies and federal courts. Over time, however, the immunity’s narrative and nature have considerably transformed. Born in the late nineteenth century as an application of the presumption against implied repeals, in PNB, the doctrine turned into an independent antitrust presumption. During the past five decades, the doctrine has transformed into an evaluative framework whose underlying premises tilt its outcomes toward preclusion of antitrust law.

The implied immunity doctrine is exceptionally important because it gives antitrust courts the power to preclude the application of antitrust law and influence national competition policy without meaningful a consideration of tradeoffs. Indeed, the doctrine is frequently invoked in courts. Yet, the doctrine has always been murky and confusing. This Article studies and clarifies the operation and applications of the implied immunity, as well as its structure, premises, and flaws.

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