Baer Confirmed to Head Antitrust Division
By Mary Jacoby | December 30, 2012 9:41 pm

The Senate confirmed William Joseph Baer today as Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.

William Baer in his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on July 26, 2012. (Elizabeth Murphy/Main Justice)

The vote was 64 to 26.

The 62-year-old former partner at Arnold & Porter LLP will take over a division that hasn’t had a presidentially appointed leader since Assistant Attorney General Christine Varney departed for Cravath, Swain & Moore LLP in August 2011.

Baer is a former director of the Federal Trade Commission’s competition bureau, where he halted a proposed merger between Staples Inc. and Office Depot  in 1997. That move was viewed as aggressive at the time, but it helped establish the FTC’s bona fides as an antitrust enforcer, according to Bloomberg.

Baer replaces Renata Hesse, who has been running the division temporarily since November when acting Assistant Attorney General Joseph Wayland departed.

Baer’s path to the office has been slow. President Barack Obama nominated him in February. In September, Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, hinted at unspecified problems with Baer’s background check. But a few days later the panel advanced his nomination to the full Senate on a vote of 12 to 5.

“Bill is a highly skilled and well-respected antitrust lawyer who understands the importance of promoting competition in order for consumers to reap the benefits of lower prices and better quality products and services,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “I have no doubt that he will lead the antitrust division effectively in its vigorous enforcement of the antitrust laws.”

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