SCRUTINIZING ANTICOMPETITIVE STATE REGULATIONS THROUGH CONSTITUTIONAL AND ANTITRUST LENSES.

Author:Crane, Daniel A.
Position:Special Issue on Antitrust Law
 
FREE EXCERPT

TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION 1177 I. WHY ANTICOMPETITIVE REGULATION SUCCEEDS 1179 A. The Generic Story 1179 B. Additional Considerations Affecting Product Market 1182 Innovation C. An Illustration from Automobile Distribution 1185 II. CONSTITUTIONAL AND ANTITRUST PRINCIPLES AS A CHECK ON 1189 ANTICOMPETITIVE REGULATION A. Lochner, anti-Lochner, and Parker 1190 B. The Potential for an Increased Level of Judicial Scrutiny 1192 III. COMPARING THE RISKS AND LIMITS OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL 1198 AND ANTITRUST TOOLS A. Limiting the Scope of Judicial Review to Regulations 1198 Affecting Competition B. Considering Governmental Justifications for Restraints on 1200 Competition C. Institutional and Procedural Distinctions 1207 D. Interactions Between Constitutional and Antitrust Levers 1210 CONCLUSION 1213 INTRODUCTION

This Article's intended audience holds a common view that state and local governments frequently adopt anticompetitive regulations for the benefit of economic special interests and that these acts of cronyism are pernicious to democracy, consumers, and economic efficiency. (1) In other words, the costs to society of these regulations far outweigh any reasonable benefits. A wise, beneficent, and all-knowing Platonic guardian of the state would have little trouble in striking down such regulations.

A further point of general consensus might relate to the particularly pernicious effect of anticompetitive state and local regulation in stifling new production innovation. In a variety of ways, our constitutional order is stodgy. Its conservatism lends a hand to the beneficiaries of incumbent technologies as they seek to deploy state power to block or to slow the advent of new technologies that may eventually displace the old, thereby preventing a realignment of wealth and position. In recent years, innovative technologies developed by companies such as Tesla, Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb have encountered determined opposition from purveyors of predecessor technologies, who have often used state and local regulation to thwart innovation. (2)

So much for the common ground. Where consensus quickly fragments is on the question of what, if anything, to do about such regulations given that wise, beneficent, and all-knowing Platonic guardians of the state are in short supply. In the imperfect messiness that is liberal democracy, we frequently accept a host of comparatively petty inconveniences--political and economic--in order to preserve larger values. Just as we tolerate many market failures because the attempt at a regulatory fix might aggravate matters, we may have to tolerate some political failures on the same grounds.

Much of the difficulty has to do with the fact that while there might be a broad consensus that state and local governments enact many unjustifiable anticompetitive regulations, there is not a clear consensus on which ones they are. The experience with economic substantive due process in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, epitomized in Lochner v. New York, (3) has left the American political psyche gun-shy about permitting judges to strike down protectionist economic regulations on constitutional grounds. Shortly after getting out of the Lochner business, the Supreme Court announced that it would not get into the same business under the guise of the antitrust laws. (4) Over time, the development of the Parker state action doctrine allowed the courts to play a somewhat expanded role with respect to anticompetitive state and local regulations, but the zone of judicial review remains relatively constricted. (5)

The purpose of this Article is to compare the deployment of constitutional and antitrust tools to scrutinize potentially anticompetitive state and local regulations against the backdrop of the ubiquitous concern about "Lochnerizing" under the auspices of either constitutional or statutory authority. Here is the question in a nutshell: If one believes that courts (or perhaps federal administrative agencies) should do somewhat more than they currently do to scrutinize and potentially invalidate anticompetitive state and local regulations, which lever should they pull--constitutional doctrines, antitrust preemption, or both? Because there are some overlapping, and some separate, institutional constraints and potential pathologies between constitutional and antitrust law, it is important to compare the two tools before deploying them.

This Article is organized as follows: Part I diagnoses the underlying features of democratic government that produce anticompetitive regulation. Some of this story is quite familiar, but I present some new observations with respect to the role of technological incumbency as a strong factor in invoking regulation to thwart innovation.

Part II explores the historical, ideological, and institutional foundations of the current legal doctrines with respect to constitutional and antitrust scrutiny of anticompetitive regulations. It shows that, despite the narrowing of Parker immunity in recent decades and some recent revival of equal protection and substantive due process as constraints on anticompetitive regulation, a good deal of anticompetitive state and local regulation remains impervious to legal challenge.

Part III compares the potential efficacy and pitfalls of deploying constitutional or antitrust doctrines as checks on anticompetitive state and local regulations. It considers: (1) the reach and domain of constitutional and antitrust theories; (2) the ways in which each theory could accommodate genuine and sufficient justifications for the challenged regulations; (3) ways in which the antitrust and constitutional tools differ substantively and procedurally; and (4) ways in which the two theories might interact.

  1. WHY ANTICOMPETITIVE REGULATION SUCCEEDS

    This Article opened with the assumption that a wide universe of unjustified state and local anticompetitive regulation exists that a benevolent Platonic guardian of the state would instantly nullify. Given this conceit, the presence of such regulations necessarily represents democratic failures, as democracy should, in principle, strive for laws that confer positive, rather than negative, public benefit. What, then, accounts for the pervasive existence of these undesirable regulations? The answer comes in two parts--a generic (and largely familiar) story concerning anticompetitive regulations as a whole, and a more specific story concerning the battle between incumbent and innovative technologies.

    1. The Generic Story

      The generic story is largely familiar from public choice theory and the literature on the Parker state action doctrine. Democratic processes systematically fail to overcome two embedded hurdles to matching regulatory schemes to broad public preferences: (1) the asymmetrical distribution of costs and benefits of anticompetitive regulations, and (2) the externalization of costs on populations outside the boundaries of the relevant democratic unit. (6) In tandem, these hurdles to democratic correction of cronyistic dispensations of monopoly power by governmental regulators perpetuate regulatory schemes that a broad majority of citizens would vote to overturn if they understood the issue and were sufficiently motivated to invest political energy in correcting it. (7)

      The first democratic deficit, well documented in public choice literature, arises because producers typically receive a much more concentrated benefit from anticompetitive regulations in comparison to the relatively unconcentrated cost imposed on consumers. (8) A small band of producers may lobby aggressively to enact or maintain an anticompetitive scheme that permits the producers to collect significant monopoly rents. (9) Those rents, in turn, may be spread across thousands or millions of consumers, each one paying a relatively small increase in rent. (10) Collective action constraints--the cost of mobilizing consumer sentiment and action to oppose the regulation--give the producers a systematic advantage in maintaining the regulation." As John Shepard Wiley explained in bringing public choice theory literature to bear on Parker immunity questions:

      [I]f the group [of consumers] is large, individual members have little incentive to participate because participation is personally costly and contributes little to the group's chances for successful joint action. Small groups encounter fewer of such problems. If group members behave in this rational self-interested manner, then "there is a systematic tendency for exploitation of the great by the small"; less numerous, more intensely concerned special interests can predictably outmatch more numerous, more mildly concerned consumer or "public" interests in legislative or regulatory fora--even though the actions of special interests impose a net loss on society. (12) The second deficit arises when governmental units--whether state or local--externalize the costs of the anticompetitive regulation outside their jurisdiction. The classic example is Parker itself, in which 90 percent of the raisins subject to California's agricultural cartel mandate were sold outside of California. (13) Out-of-state consumers could not be counted on to mobilize democratically to oppose the California regulation, as they had no political voice in California. (14)

      Many similar examples of jurisdictional cost externalization have been documented. (15) One arose in an important Supreme Court decision on state action immunity, Town of Hallie v. City of Eau Claire. (16) Hallie, Seymour, Union, and Washington were unincorporated towns adjacent to the city of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. (17) Their citizens could not vote in Eau Claire, but Eau Claire wanted to annex those territories into its boundaries, possibly through coercive means. (18) Eau Claire received federal funds to build a sewage treatment plant in its service area, which covered the four towns, then refused to supply sewage treatment services to...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP