The normally five-person panel that oversees the Federal Trade Commission has been working at less than half-strength for more than a year. With his recent slate of nominees, the President has taken a rare opportunity to completely re-vamp the Commission (because of their customary seven-year terms, presidents rarely get to make nominations for all five seats).
Acting Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen has been nominated by the president to serve on the federal claims court, and so will be leaving her seat. Commissioner Terrell McSweeny will also be stepping down when her replacement is confirmed (her term ended in 2017, but she stayed on to help the Commission handle its caseload).
And the Nominees Are…
If approved, McSweeny’s seat will be filled by Republican Joseph Simons, Of Counsel at New York law firm Paul, Weiss and chair of its antitrust group. Simons served as the chief antitrust enforcer at the FTC during George W. Bush’s presidency.
Delta Air Lines executive Christine Wilson is up for another Republican seat. Wilson currently serves as the airline’s Senior Vice President – Legal, Regulatory and International. Before moving in-house at Delta, she was a partner at law firm Kirkland & Ellis, where she represented clients before various regulatory and enforcement bodies. Noah Phillips, chief counsel for Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, is being tapped for a Republican vacancy. He is a former litigation associate at Cravath and Steptoe & Johnson. Finally, President Trump advanced Rohit Chopra, a former assistant director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a member of Hillary Clinton’s campaign transition team, and ally of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
For the most part, the selections come with Big Law, pro-business backgrounds. If Chopra’s biography seems out of place, it’s because he was recommended by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Unlike many aspects of the Trump administration, the Chopra pick follows established tradition: Opposition party seats on the Commission are generally recommended to the president by the highest-ranking opposing-party senator. Chopra was Schumer’s choice. While no more than three of the five Commissioners can be from the same political party, there are no rules that required the President to accept Schumer’s choice, or even appoint a Democrat. He could have turned to independents after capping out on Republicans.
Should they be confirmed, Simons’ term would end in 2024, Wilson’s in 2025, Phillips’ in 2023, and Chopra’s in 2019.A future fifth nominee for the empty Democratic seat has not been announced. It will be interesting to see if it goes to a Democrat or an Independent, and if the nominee has a consumer protection or business background.