In September, Florence Pan was confirmed as the newest judge on the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. But before she could assume that new position, she became known in publishing circles as the judge who presided over the U.S. v. Bertelsmann SE & Co. KGAA et al. trial—the Department of Justice’s attempt to block Penguin Random House’s purchase of Simon & Schuster on antitrust grounds.
In overseeing the landmark case, Pan was positioned to make some sort of publishing history. A ruling in favor of PRH would have given the go-ahead to the formation of a trade book publisher of unprecedented scale, whereas Pan’s eventual decision in favor of the DOJ marked the first time the government successfully stepped in to block the steady pace of consolidation within trade book publishing.
The move to take PRH to court was seen by some as a way for the Biden administration to show its commitment to more aggressive enforcement of the country’s antitrust laws. Nonetheless, trial observers saw Pan as a no-nonsense judge who quickly got up to speed on the mysterious and unusual ways publishing operates. While Pan posed sharp questions to attorneys on both sides of the case, several days into what was nearly a three-week trial it was clear that the judge was skeptical of some of PRH’s arguments. That perception was proven correct when Pan released her final decision, in which she delivered a clear victory for the DOJ.
“The government has presented a compelling case that predicts substantial harm to competition as a result of the proposed merger of PRH and S&S,” Pan wrote in her opinion. She also said the proposed PRH-S&S merger “must be considered in the high context of an undeniable trend in consolidation in the publishing industry.”
The ruling was greeted with widespread approval by authors and disappointment by PRH. In late November, S&S parent company Paramount Global chose not to extend the $2.175 billion sales agreement it had signed with PRH, thereby making an appeal of the decision impossible and ensuring that Pan’s verdict was the final word in the case.
President Biden had nominated Pan to the appeals court in May, before the PRH trial began, to fill the seat that belonged to Ketanji Brown Jackson, who became a U.S. Supreme Court justice on June 30. Pan assumed her new office on September 26 and is the first Chinese American to serve on the District of Columbia Circuit Appeals Court.