During arguments in a case that could have enormous consequences for the tech giant, justices across the ideological spectrum seemed to think consumers had the right to move forward with a fledgling class-action lawsuit saying Apple's App Store has an unfair monopoly that is raising the price of iPhone apps.
Plaintiffs acting on behalf of iPhone customers argued that because Apple chooses what apps can be sold, gives developers a limited pricing structure and forces iPhone owners to use the App Store, it is operating anti-competitively.
Apple has come under fire in the US by a group of iPhone owners who claim that the firn's monopoly on iPhone software amounts to a violation of the US Antitrust law.
Only Chief Justice John Roberts suggested clear support for Apple. "The threshold issue is who may seek damages based on allegedly anticompetitive conduct by Apple that allows it to charge excessive commissions on apps distribution: the app developers, the plaintiff consumers, or both?"
That relationship makes Apple the proper target of an antitrust lawsuit, they said.
Justice Stephen Breyer, who taught antitrust law, said it was a simple and long-standing principle that those with a complaint sued the monopoly.
Lead plaintiff Robert Pepper of Chicago argued that Apple's App Store monopoly leads to inflated prices because developers have to account for Apple's 30% fee.
Anyone who wants to get an app for an iPhone has only one place to go - Apple's own App Store. Such a move would certainly compromise the security of iPhones and iPads though.
Justice Brett Kavanaugh, another conservative Trump appointee, pushed back against Francisco's contention that Apple's actions are not the direct cause of higher prices for consumers, because app makers set the final prices. Apple is also being backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce business group.
The court will rule by June in the latest case, Apple v. Pepper, 17-204.
In the case of iPhone apps, developers are "direct" purchasers, while consumers are only "indirect" purchasers - and therefore unable to sue Apple - the company contends.
"I really wonder whether, in light of what has happened since then, the court's evaluation stands up", Alito said.
If the justices permit the suit to go forward, a decision against Apple would nearly certainly be a blow to its business. But the San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals revived the case past year, finding that Apple was a distributor that sold iPhone apps directly to consumers. Apple has said that a ruling against the company could be a threat to the entire e-commerce industry and would open the doors for consumers to file dozens of suits against other businesses.