The U.S. Justice Department’s lawsuit seeking to halt JetBlue Airways Corp’s planned $3.8 billion acquisition of ultra-low cost carrier Spirit Airlines Inc was reassigned on Wednesday to a judge known for trying to speed cases along to trial.
U.S. District Judge William Young in Boston was randomly assigned the case despite the Justice Department’s contention that the lawsuit should be heard by another judge who is overseeing a separate antitrust case involving JetBlue.
That case brought by the Justice Department seeks to force American Airlines and JetBlue to scrap their U.S. Northeast partnership because it would mean higher prices for consumers. U.S. District Judge Leo Sorokin presided over a trial last year in that case but has not yet issued a ruling.
The Justice Department on Tuesday argued that Sorokin should hear the Spirit case as well because both involved “an assessment of JetBlue‘s network plans, aircraft orders and configurations, and pricing strategy.”
Sorokin, an appointee of Democratic former President Barack Obama, on Wednesday in a brief order said the Spirit case was wrongly assigned to him because it was “incorrectly marked as related and thus not randomly assigned.”
It was then assigned to Young, a veteran jurist known for setting quick schedules to get cases to trial. Young, appointed by Republican former President Ronald Reagan, has served on the bench since 1985.
The Justice Department and JetBlue declined to comment.
The lawsuit is the latest attempt by President Joe Biden’s administration to push back against further consolidation in industries with the fewest competitors.
In the case filed on Tuesday, the Justice Department said the merger of JetBlue and Spirit would “combine two especially close and fierce head-to-head competitors.” It called the deal “presumptively illegal.” It also said that JetBlue planned to remove 10% to 15% of seats from every Spirit plane.
The Justice Department’s lawsuit was joined by the states of Massachusetts and New York as well as Washington, D.C.
JetBlue has argued that the merger, which would create the fifth-largest U.S. carrier with a market share of 9%, was good for competition and would allow it to better compete with the big airlines.
Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters