Microsoft won the latest battle in its antitrust case today as the U.S. Supreme Court said the company's appeal of a break-up order should first be heard in a lower court. The decision sets the stage for hearings in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., a venue regarded as more sympathetic to Microsoft.
Eight of the Supreme Court's nine justices voted to send Microsoft's appeal to the lower court, rather than hear the case immediately, as the Justice Department and 19 states suing Microsoft for antitrust violations had wanted. Only Justice Stephen Breyer dissented, saying the case "affects an important sector of the economy--a sector characterized by rapid technological change. Speed may help create a legal certainty."
In June, U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ordered Microsoft broken into two companies for stifling competition through antitrust violations. But the judge stayed the break-up order--and remedies imposed on Microsoft--until the company exhausts its appeals. The Justice Department wanted the appeal forwarded directly to the Supreme Court, citing a 1974 law that permits expediting antitrust cases in the national interest. But the high court declined to review the case on a fast track, sending it to the appeals court, which overruled Jackson once before in the Microsoft case, in 1998. The decision sent Microsoft stock up $2.94 early this afternoon, to $64.19.
In a TV appearance after the decision was announced, Microsoft president and CEO Steve Ballmer said the company is "glad to have a chance to present [our position] to the appellate court." The high court's action is "just another procedural step in the process."
A Justice Department spokeswoman says, "We look forward to presenting our case to the court of appeals as expeditiously as possible."