Amicus Brief

ICLE Amicus to US Supreme Court in McDonald’s v DesLandes


The International Center for Law & Economics (“ICLE”) is a nonprofit, non-partisan global research and policy center aimed at building the intellectual foundations for sensible, economically grounded policy. ICLE promotes the use of law and economics methodologies, as well as the results of economic research, to inform public policy debates, and it has longstanding expertise in antitrust law. It has filed amicus briefs in this Court and others around the country. See, e.g., Apple Inc. v. Epic Games, Inc., No. 23-344 (U.S.); United States v. Am. Airlines Grp. Inc., No. 23-1802 (1st Cir.); Giordano v. Saks Inc., No. 23-600 (2d Cir.).

ICLE respectfully submits that the decision below undermines the economic foundations of antitrust law by presuming that a potentially procompetitive restraint is per se unlawful, rather than analyzing the restraint under the default rule of reason. The Court should grant the petition for a writ of certiorari to clarify that the type of restraint at issue here is presumptively procompetitive and thus subject to the rule of reason.

ICLE scholars have written extensively on issues closely related to this case, and respectfully submit that their expertise will help clarify the economic problems with the decision below and highlight the reasons for the Court to grant certiorari.


This Court has clearly and repeatedly recognized that “[t]he rule of reason is the accepted standard for testing whether a practice restrains trade in violation of [Sherman Act] § 1” and that per se prohibitions are “con- fined to restraints … ‘that would always or almost al- ways tend to restrict competition and decrease output.’” Leegin Creative Leather Prods., Inc. v. PSKS, Inc., 551 U.S. 877, 885–86 (2007) (quoting Bus. Elecs. Corp. v. Sharp Elecs. Corp., 485 U.S. 717, 723 (1988)). The decision below cannot be reconciled with those important principles.

The Seventh Circuit committed at least three errors that threaten the economic foundations of antitrust law and are worthy of this Court’s attention.

First, the Seventh Circuit inverted the strong presumption in favor of rule of reason analysis—a presumption that is critical in preventing antitrust law from deterring productive and beneficial conduct. Plaintiffs can overcome that presumption, but only when they show that the challenged restraint falls squarely within a class or category that “always or almost always” harms competition. Leegin, 551 U.S. at 885–86. For a court to make that prediction with confidence, it must have sufficient experience with the restraint. Here, the Seventh Circuit turned settled law on its head. From a dearth of experience, the court of appeals reasoned that a per se claim was plausible and sustainable. This approach threatens to chill Interbrand competition.

Second, the Seventh Circuit sustained a per se challenge to a restraint that has significant procompetitive virtues. The challenged contractual provision was designed, and chiefly functioned, as a vertical restraint. The economic literature shows that intrabrand vertical restraints tend to benefit competition. While there are circumstances under which certain vertical restraints can be anticompetitive, there is no literature demonstrating that they are typically anticompetitive. In the franchise context, intrabrand vertical restraints strengthen the franchise’s brand overall and thus foster competition. The existence of some horizontal aspects or applications of such a restraint, moreover, does not negate these procompetitive virtues. The rule of reason fosters consideration of such issues, whereas the Seventh Circuit’s decision curtails it.

Third, the Seventh Circuit held that positive effects on consumers cannot justify a restraint in the labor market. This holding is in deep tension with this Court’s admonition that antitrust analysis focus on “the commercial realities” of a business or industry rather than on “formalistic distinctions.” See Ohio v. Am. Express Co., 138 S. Ct. 2274, 2285 (2018) (“AmEx”) (quoting Eastman Kodak Co. v. Image Tech. Servs., Inc., 504 U.S. 451, 466–67 (1992)). Second, the decision below is at odds with this Court’s teaching that “reasonableness” is a holistic endeavor, which incorporates consideration of consumer welfare. See NCAA v. Alston, 141 S. Ct. 2141, 2151 (2021). As petitioners explain, a growing circuit split on this fundamental, analytical issue warrants this Court’s immediate attention.

[1] Pursuant to S. Ct. Rule 37.2(a), counsel for all parties have been notified about the filing of this brief. No counsel for a party authored this brief in whole or in part and no person or entity other than amicus, its members, or counsel made a monetary contribution to its preparation or submission.