Date set for for epic Amazon-FTC antitrust showdown

Lina Khan may not even be in charge of watchdog by time case gets to trial, if it even goes that far

The FTC's antitrust case against Amazon is headed to trial, though not anytime soon, with a federal judge scheduling it to begin on October 13, 2026. 

The order [PDF], signed by Judge John Chun in Washington state, gives Amazon, the FTC, and the 17 US state attorneys general party to the case plenty of time to get their cases together. Judge Chun made his determination after a scheduling conference held February 8, details of which aren't yet available through court records.

The case, which was brought by America's federal consumer watchdog in late September last year, accused Amazon of being a monopolist by doing things like punishing sellers for undercutting the web souk itself, and leaning on vendors to pay to use the mega-corp's vast network of warehouses and drivers, allowing those suppliers to offer fast and free Prime deliveries to shoppers.

One of the most headline-grabbing revelations from the FTC's lawsuit was Amazon's Project Nessie. According to the watchdog, Amazon noticed competitors matching their prices to the internet titan's, and so developed an algorithm to nudge up its own prices as far as rivals were willing to match. That allowed Amazon to increase its revenue, offsetting whatever sales it may have lost, and reap $1.4 billion in excess profits from customers paying more than they could and should have done, allegedly.

Amazon, for its part, has denied the allegations, and filed a motion to dismiss the case in December. Amazon claimed in its rebuttal that the FTC's case was vague, and that its practices were "the essence of competition," and not anticompetitive.

When asked for comment today, Amazon directed us to a previous statement from its general counsel, David Zapolsky, who said in December the FTC was misrepresenting its practices and would harm shoppers and shops with this legal battle.

"As we've said before, the FTC's misguided case would harm consumers, hurt small and medium-sized sellers, and upend long-standing and well-considered doctrines," Zapolsky said. 

The FTC responded [PDF] to Amazon's motion to dismiss last week just prior to the scheduling conference. The regulator described its case as "a straightforward story of illegal conduct" and asked the judge to deny Amazon's dismissal motion.

"Amazon employs various anticompetitive tactics to prevent third-party sellers and rivals from discounting and coerces sellers into using Amazon's services to fulfill orders, all of which works together to impede free and fair competition," the FTC said in its rebuttal. "With rivals foreclosed from gaining scale and competing, Amazon is free to exploit its monopoly power."

Despite the trial date being set, the motion to dismiss the case is still pending. Both Amazon and the FTC have asked the judge to consider their respective takes on the motion by late next month. 

Even if the case does end up going to trial in 2026, Big Tech critic and FTC boss Lina Khan may not be in the job to oversee the culmination of her legal strategy toward an industry she sees as rife [PDF] with "21st century monopolists." 

Khan, whose leadership of the FCC began in 2021, will see her term expire this September if President Biden doesn't renew it. We can't imagine why he wouldn't. However, a US presidential election coming just two months later, her next stint in office could be shorter. ®

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