Mary Jo White, President Barack Obama's nominee for chair of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, faced little resistance from senators during her March 12 confirmation hearing. Primarily, she fielded questions about rulemaking priorities and potential conflicts, and reiterated her commitment to aggressive enforcement.
"I don't think there is anything more important than vigorous and credible enforcement of the securities laws," White said during the almost two-hour hearing. "It must be done."
White testified alongside Richard Cordray, Obama's pick to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.
Committee Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., was first to question White on potential conflicts regarding the work she did on behalf of financial services clients during her more than 10 years as chair of Debevoise & Plimpton's litigation department.
"Before I agreed to be nominated for this position, I detailed to the White House, the independent office of government ethics and the career SEC ethics official, the nature and extent of my and my spouse's and my firm's legal practices to be certain that there would be no conflicts that could be problematic or limit my ability to function effectively," White said in response. "I'm very scrupulous about these issues and I place a high bar on them."
During White's tenure at the firm, Debevoise & Plimpton represented The Carlyle Group, Goldman Sachs, BB&T, Morgan Stanley, Barclays Capital, Bank of America, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank Securities, HSBC, and Wells Fargo Securities, among other financial clients.
In a Feb. 5 letter to SEC ethics officials, White indicated that her husband, John White, would convert to a non-equity partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore to help eliminate potential conflicts. He would be the first non-equity partner in the firm's history.
Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also pressed White about her most recent private practice stint, asking whether her former job would hamper her ability to represent the best interests of the American public. She responded with an emphatic "no."
"I've been a lawyer over the last 10 years, and when you're a lawyer you represent different types of clients and you are ethically bound to represent them to the best of your ability and I have done that," White said. "This has not changed me as a person. It does not mean that I embraced the policy thoughts of any of my clients in particular. I think that the public investor should know that I am their advocate… In this instance if I am confirmed, the American public will be my client and I will work as zealously as is possible on behalf of them."