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Photo: Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The Supreme Court upheld Monday a lower court ruling that American Express didn't violate federal antitrust laws when it told retailers that took Amex that they couldn't encourage customers to use cards, like Discover, that charge merchants lower fees.

Why it matters: Today's decision may give the tech giants more ammunition to argue against the growing number of critics who believe their power is an competitive concern. Amazon, Facebook, Google and Uber — like American Express — run two-sided markets. The court said, effectively, that antitrust cases against two-sided market companies should sometimes have to consider both sides.

The setup: American Express is considered a two-sided market because it charges fees to both the consumers who use its cards and the merchants who accept them. The federal government, as well as 17 states, sued the company over provisions in its deals with merchants that made it impossible for those stores to push customers to use cards that charged retailers lower fees.

  • An initial ruling against the company was overturned on appeal, and the case ended up at the Supreme Court.

Details:

  • Justice Clarence Thomas said in the court’s majority opinion that, in the case of higher merchant fees demanded by American Express, evidence “of a price increase on one side of a two-sided transaction platform cannot by itself demonstrate an anticompetitive exercise of market power,” and the government hadn’t proved the case.
  • The court’s liberal justices dissented from that line of reasoning.

The big picture: This could be good news for many of Silicon Valley's giants.

  • A trade group whose members include Google, Facebook and Amazon supported argued it was important to consider both sides of a two-sided market, which the court ultimately did.
  • Tech's antitrust critics worried that a ruling like the one handed down on Monday could help the large platform companies fend off legal challenges to their dominance.
  • "SCOTUS just immunized tech platforms from effective antitrust scrutiny," tweeted Lina Khan, the Director of Legal Policy at the Open Markets Institute, which supporters harsher enforcement of antitrust law.

But but but: Thomas did say that not all cases involving companies that run two-sided markets should assess both sides. He said that that type of scrutiny should be applied to firms that "facilitate a single, simultaneous transaction between participants."

Go deeper

Neera Tanden withdraws nomination for Office of Management and Budget director

Neera Tanden testifying before the Senate Budget Committee in Washington, D.C., in February 2021. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Neera Tanden withdrew her name from nomination to lead the Office of Management and Budget after several senators voiced opposition and concern about her qualifications and past combative tweets, President Biden announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: Tanden’s decision to pull her nomination marks Biden's first setback in filling out his Cabinet with a thin Democratic majority in the Senate.

What's ahead for the newest female CEOs

Jane Fraser (L) and Rosalind Brewer. Photos: Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images; Rodrigo Capote/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

The number of women at the helm of America’s biggest companies pales in comparison to men, but is newly growing — and their tasks are huge.

What's going on: Jane Fraser took over at Citigroup this week, the first woman to ever lead a major U.S. bank. Rosalind Brewer will take the reins at Walgreens in the coming weeks (March 15) — a company that's been run by white men for more than a century.

3 hours ago - Health

Biden says U.S. will have enough vaccines for 300 million adults by end of May

President Biden. Photo: Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images

President Biden on Tuesday said that ramped-up coronavirus vaccine production will provide enough doses for 300 million Americans by the end May.

Why it matters: That's two months sooner than Biden's previous promise of enough vaccines for all American adults by the end of July.