On Thursday, the White House announced it intends to designate Edith Ramirez as the new chair of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Ramirez, a current FTC commissioner, was a fellow Harvard Law School classmate of President Obama, and served as the Obama campaign’s Latino outreach director in California. She was an associate at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP and a Los Angeles-based partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP before being appointed a FTC commissioner in April 2010. At Quinn Emanuel, Ramirez specialized in complex business litigation, including intellectual property, unfair competition and trademark disputes.
Ramirez will replace Jon Leibowitz as the head of the agency. Leibowitz's departure leaves two Democrats and two Republicans on the commission, which at full strength has five members. In the case of a 2-2 vote, no action is taken. There has been little word so far on a nominee for the remaining commissioner’s spot. Early reports indicate Leslie Overton—a former partner at Jones Day and now at the Justice Department's Antitrust Division—may be in the running. Because Ramirez is already a Commissioner, she will not require Senate approval to be named chair; however, any new commissioner will require Senate approval.
Our own Len Gordon had this to say about the decision: "She's a great choice. She approaches things in a very methodical, evidence-based, step-by-step approach and that will follow her to the commission." During his tenure, Leibowitz made clear he was willing to take aggressive positions and lose some cases to make a point or to test the law. It remains to be seen whether Ramirez will adopt a similar approach.
In general, Ramirez believes in industry self-regulation as an effective tool for consumer protection. In a November 2012 speech, Ramirez stated:
Domestically, the FTC views robust self-regulation as an important tool for consumer protection that potentially can respond more quickly and efficiently than government regulation. We have encouraged self-regulatory efforts in areas such as national advertising, food marketing to children, the marketing of violent entertainment to kids, alcohol marketing, and privacy. But our support for self-regulation is not at any price. Self-regulation, to be effective, must be the product of a transparent process and must impose meaningful standards subject to strict enforcement. And these programs must not be a pretext for barriers to entry.
Stay tuned for any developments as Ramirez settles into her new position, and names her senior staff, including a possible new Director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. Upon David Vladeck’s leaving that role at the beginning of the year, Chuck Harwood has served as Acting Director. Whether Ramirez names Harwood to that role on permanent basis or who she names to be BCP Director may provide some insight into how she stands on key issues going forward.