The United States Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it had declined to hear Microsoft's appeal, sending the software giant's antitrust case directly the Appellate Court. In a decision celebrated by Microsoft, the Supreme Court said that the Microsoft case was not directly tied to the U.S. economy and therefore didn't need to be fast-tracked as requested the Department of Justice (DOJ). Only Justice Stephen Breyer disagreed with this action, stating that Microsoft's antitrust case "significantly affects an important sector of the economy." With Breyer's dissention, the Court voted 8 to 1 not to hear the case.

Microsoft president and CEO Steve Ballmer tried to downplay the decision. "I think this is just another step in the process; I don't think too much should be read into it either way," he said. "We're pleased to get this case in front of an appellate body. We are excited to have our chance to present our view of the situation to the appellate court."

After Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ruled that Microsoft should be broken in two after being found guilty of sweeping antitrust violations, the company sought to have its appeal heard by the U.S. District Court of Appeals, which has been friendly to the software giant in the past. But the DOJ and Judge Jackson agreed that the case should be fast-tracked directly to the Supreme Court, bypassing the Appellate Court. According to Microsoft, no appeals schedule has yet been issued. "Microsoft is confident of our appellate case and look forward to presenting our appeal to the Court of Appeals," Microsoft spokesperson Jim Cullinan said today. "The next step in the process is that the parties will hear from the Court of Appeals about how it wants to move the case forward. In the ordinary course, we would expect to receive a briefing schedule from the Court of Appeals."

In related news, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced today that it has ended its investigation of microprocessor giant Intel Corporation, with no action taken. The FTC had been looking into Intel's alleged anticompetitive practices since March 1999, when the company settled other charges. Competitors such as Intergraph, Compaq, and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC, later sold to Compaq) complained that Intel was abusing its market dominance by denying them access to information and stealing their intellectual property. Intel was lauded for its cooperation during the investigation, something Microsoft might have taken to heart during its slugfest with the DOJ