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Jeff Bezos. Photo: David Ryder/Getty

Concern about antitrust action from Washington may be influencing how Amazon selects its much-sought new headquarters — specifically pushing it to favor the D.C. area. We asked legal scholars whether the government actually has a case against Amazon — as President Trump has threatened — and what antitrust action would look like.

The backdrop: One of the leading thinkers on an Amazon breakup is Lina Khan, author of a seminal paper called "Amazon's Antitrust Paradox" while at Yale Law School. Khan argues that antitrust laws that focus on prices are ill-equipped to address Amazon's market power.

  • Even if the e-commerce giant keeps prices very low and customers very happy, Amazon's mountains of data on shoppers, and its dominance across a multitude of industries give it outsize influence that is anti-competitive, Khan writes.
  • That's precisely what European Union regulators are probing: whether Amazon's consumer data gives it an inherent — and unfair — advantage over rivals.
"If the [U.S.] agencies investigate, they will focus on the questions raised by specific conduct; for example, the use of leverage to exclude rivals, keep them at bay, and entrench market power by doing so."
— Eleanor Fox, antitrust law expert and professor at NYU

But some legal experts tell Axios that Amazon is in the clear:

"The two most antitrust common complaints about Amazon concern low prices and acquisitions. As to the former, the fact that Amazon grew for many years while not running company-wide profits most likely reflects consumer-friendly but lawful prices and aggressive investment in product improvements and new lines of business. The public criticisms fall far short of demonstrating a pattern of unlawfully low prices. As to acquisitions, I am not aware of any instance in which Amazon has obtained market power by merger or acquisition."
— Doug Melamed, antitrust law professor at Stanford

Go deeper

In photos: D.C. and U.S. states on alert for pre-inauguration violence

National Guard troops stand behind security fencing with the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building behind them, on Jan. 16. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Security has been stepped up in Washington, D.C., and state capitols across the U.S. as authorities brace for potential violence this weekend.

Driving the news: Following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by some supporters of President Trump, the FBI has said there could be armed protests in D.C. and in all 50 state capitols in the run-up to President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

The new Washington

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Axios subject-matter experts brief you on the incoming administration's plans and team.

Rep. Lou Correa tests positive for COVID-19

Lou Correa. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) announced on Saturday that he has tested positive for the coronavirus.

Why it matters: Correa is the latest Democratic lawmaker to share his positive test results after last week's deadly Capitol riot. Correa did not shelter in the designated safe zone with his congressional colleagues during the siege, per a spokesperson, instead staying outside to help Capitol Police.