Zephyr Teachout for The Guardian “The US Congress just got more power to investigate big tech. Let’s make it count.” 

July 15, 2020 Press Release

Washington, DC – In an op-ed for The Guardian,Zephyr Teachout explains how the Supreme Court’s decision in Trump v. Mazars reaffirmed Congress’ ability to investigate big corporations just in time for one of the biggest Congressional corporate showdowns in a decade.

Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai, and Tim Cook are set to testify before the Congressional Antitrust Subcommittee on July 27th. After their countless attempts to stonewall the committee’s year-long investigation into the big tech companies, many have worried that the CEOs are playing chicken, threatening to pull out if they don’t get the cushiest possible format – limited questions, all the CEOs on one panel. Teachout argues Congress should use the powers Mazars gave them to demand the CEOs participate in whatever format will best serve the serious, fact-based investigation.

The op-ed is excerpted below and can be read in full here.

In the last decision of the 2019-2020 supreme court term, Trump v Mazars, John Roberts outdid himself in being John Roberts. He authored a 7-2 decision in which he appears to stand up against Donald Trump’s lawlessness, by clarifying that Congress can issue subpoenas for Trump financial documents. However, the congressional power is constrained by a new, vague, four-part test for courts to use in approving subpoenas for presidential documents. Roberts grandly reaffirmed congressional power to investigate the executive branch in theory, while making it harder in practice. He presented himself as the sober, rule-of-law judge, calling balls and strikes in the childish conflict between Congress and the executive branch – while giving himself more power.

Yet there’s one big silver lining in Mazars: while shifting power from Congress to the courts in executive branch investigations, it gave Congress a huge green light for investigations into big corporations. According to the logic of the opinion, Congress is at the peak of its power when investigating economic behavior in service of prospective legislation.

Democratic Congress members should seize the moment. Trump is a major problem, but so too are corporate monopolies, and we need Congress working at full capacity to keep our democracy from both being devoured and drowning. In other words: we need Nancy Pelosi and the House judiciary committee to take the hammer that the supreme court just gave them and use it to investigate corporate malfeasance, and then pass major new legislation to rein in corporate and monopolistic abuses.

Last summer, the committee sent the big tech companies a series of queries about how their businesses operate. The companies answered some questions but were hiding the ball on others. Answers to these, and other questions, play a critical role in informing prospective legislation. The antitrust subcommittee is actively considering what new antitrust laws should be passed; it is their job and responsibility to ask.

One of the big reasons for the hearing in the first place is that big tech has way too much power and has become a private, for-profit regulator of our communications system, our markets, and our democracy. If Congress submits when big tech asks for kinder, gentler questions, the symbolism is too on the nose for comfort.

Congress should use all the power the court just gave it.


Economic Liberties works to ensure America’s system of commerce is structured to advance, rather than undermine, economic liberty, fair commerce, and a secure, inclusive democracy. AELP believes true economic liberty means entrepreneurs and businesses large and small succeed on the merits of their ideas and hard work; commerce empowers consumers, workers, farmers, and engineers instead of subjecting them to discrimination and abuse from financiers and monopolists; foreign trade arrangements support domestic security and democracy; and wealth is broadly distributed to support equitable political power.