AT&T Gets Approval To Buy Time Warner In Deal That Could Reshape The Media Industry

(CNN Money) — A federal judge ruled on Tuesday that AT&T can move forward with its $85 billion acquisition of Time Warner.

Judge Richard Leon of the US District Court for the District of Columbia said at a hearing that he has found, after a six-week trial, that the deal does not violate antitrust law and can proceed.

Leon discouraged the government from asking him to put his own ruling on hold pending appeal, and said that if asked he would deny a stay. “I hope the government has the wisdom and courage” not to seek a stay, he said.

Using unusually strong language, Leon said it would be “manifestly unjust” for the government to ask him to put his own ruling on hold, because if he were to do so, it could have the effect of killing the deal, which has a deadline for completion of June 21.

The Justice Department, which had sued to block the purchase, has the option of appealing the decision. According to a scheduling order, AT&T has agreed not to complete the acquisition for six days to allow time for an appeal.

CNN is owned by Time Warner.

Makan Delrahim, the Justice Department’s top antitrust official, said the government was disappointed in the ruling and would “consider next steps.”

“We continue to believe that the pay-TV market will be less competitive and less innovative as a result of the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner,” he said in a statement.

David McAtee, AT&T’s general counsel, said AT&T expected to close the deal by June 20.

“We are pleased that, after conducting a full and fair trial on the merits, the Court has categorically rejected the government’s lawsuit to block our merger with Time Warner,” he said in a statement.

The judge’s ruling will likely be seen by tech and telecom giants as a green light to pursue a slew of major media acquisitions.

Comcast is widely expected to bid within days for part of 21st Century Fox. That would set up a showdown with Disney, which has already put in a bid for those assets. Fox stock jumped more than 6% in after-hours trading following the ruling.

“Brian Roberts and Team Comcast are cleared to bid,” BTIG Research analyst Rich Greenfield told CNNMoney after the ruling. “The question is whether Disney is ready because unlike in 2004, Comcast is in it to win!”

A Comcast spokesperson declined to comment.