Judge Leon reportedly put no conditions on the deal and the result of this case stands to have far-reaching effects on the media landscape and other groups considering or seeking vertical mergers.
In addition, T-Mobile and Sprint are direct competitors, so their merger is perhaps more likely to be seen as anti-competitive than a union of AT&T and Time Warner. AT&T itself is the largest telecom provider in the world, and via DirecTV, it is also the largest multichannel video programming distributor in the U.S. Time Warner, meanwhile, owns channels like TBS and TNT, HBO and Warner Bros., not to mention the assets to live sports and news orgs such as the NBA, MLB, NCAA March Madness and PGA.
In any case, the judge's decision - which could block, allow or approve the merger with restrictions - is unlikely to be the final word.
The AT&T and Time Warner merger has officially been approved. Most notably, Disney's ongoing offer to buy 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion, which Comcast is expected to compete against. The transition to streaming services, away from traditional cable, is one that's costing pay TV companies millions of subscribers and billions in revenue every year.
Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim said the Justice Department was "disappointed" by the decision, but did not say if it planned to appeal. "We will closely review the Court's opinion and consider next steps in light of our commitment to preserving competition for the benefit of American consumers", Delrahm added in a statement.
In the decision (PDF) closing the case, Judge Leon said that the government's arguments against the deal fell flat.
Aside from proving Stephenson is a fan of the Oxford comma, the government argued that this quote showed AT&T did intend to use Time Warner's content as a weapon.
Former Federal Communications Commission staff attorney Blair Levin said a loose interpretation of antitrust law would allow the government to block nearly any deal, and open up the process to political interference.
Disney CEO Bob Iger has previously addressed the reports of Comcast's plans to out-bid Disney, stating he was "confident" in the latter's offer and the studio would remain optimistic about its ability to close a deal that shareholders were said to view favorably.
The decision comes despite criticism from Trump, a frequent detractor of Time Warner's CNN and its coverage.
The US Department of Justice-the nation's antitrust authority-sued to block the deal late previous year, arguing that Time Warner's media brands like HBO, Warner Bros., and CNN would give AT&T outsized power, hurt competition, and lead to higher prices for consumers. President Donald Trump, while still a candidate, said he would block the deal "because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few".