President Obama will tap Edith Ramirez to serve as the next head of the Federal Trade Commission, a White House official confirmed February 28.
An FTC commissioner since 2010, Ramirez and Obama were classmates at Harvard Law School, where they worked together on the law review.
She’s a former business litigation partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, and is viewed as brilliant though somewhat reserved by lawyers who know the agency well. But perhaps what sets her most apart from her predecessors at the FTC, they say, is her experience in court.
"Edith Ramirez is more experienced as a litigator than anyone we have had as chairman during my career," said Dechert antitrust partner Paul Denis, who has been practicing for 30 years. "Bringing a litigator’s eye and judgment to case selection and personnel decisions should have a very positive impact on the commission."
Ramirez was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate on March 3, 2010 along with fellow commissioner Julie Brill, who was also widely believed to be in the running to head the agency. Because Ramirez is already a commissioner, she does not need Senate confirmation to serve as chair. However, her appointment creates a vacant spot for a new Democratic commissioner to the five-member body.
In the meantime, with two Democrats and two Republicans—and the potential for tie votes—the commission may be "less aggressive than the current commission," said Weil, Gotshal & Manges antitrust practice head Steven Newborn. "In my meetings with now-Chairman Ramirez, she has impressed me as incredibly well-prepared, smart and perceptive, and she may need all those attributes to get a commission majority to bring some of the more problematic enforcement actions the Leibowitz commission did regularly. An excellent choice by the president."
Hogan Lovells antitrust partner Janet McDavid agreed. "I think Edith is an excellent choice for FTC chair," she said. "She is thoughtful and sensible. She has supported enforcement in rational ways. Her litigation background has allowed her to consider the litigation risk involved in enforcement decisions."
Ramirez spent 14 years at Quinn Emanuel, where her clients included Mattel Inc,. The Walt Disney Company and Northrop Grumman Corp. She handled matters involving antitrust, copyright and trademark infringement, business tort, and other general litigation.
"Coming from the West Coast with a background in representing individuals and municipal utilities as well as businesses gives her a balanced vantage point from beyond the Beltway that will serve her well in leading the FTC in these times," said McDermott, Will & Emery antitrust partner Allan Van Fleet.
In November, Ramirez answered questions from consumers submitted by Twitter and Facebook, and described her general approach to antitrust law. "We don’t want to be penalizing successful firms," she said. "We want firms to be striving to gain market share. We want them to be doing what they can to provide better products and better services for consumers. We want them to be successful and we don’t want to penalize that. So, the issue of monopoly power, that’s just a starting point in the analysis. For there to be a violation, the firm has to engage in unlawful conduct in either the acquisition of that monopoly or the maintenance of the monopoly."
She’s also known for her interest in intellectual property issues, noted David Balto, a public interest antitrust lawyer in Washington. "Ramirez brings a wealth of IP litigation experience which will help guide the FTC at a time where we need much stronger antitrust enforcement in this critical area," he said.
At a 2011 intellectual property workshop, Ramirez flagged competitive concerns when patented technologies are incorporated into collaborative standards. "Where standards are involved, excessive royalty rates may be passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices for an entire class of products," she said in her opening remarks. "There is concern that, in industries where technologies that do not find their way into the latest standard die on the vine, joint negotiations may lead to royalties that reflect the collective bargaining power of the licensees, rather than the value of the technology exclusive of switching costs."
Ramirez has also signaled an interest in international issues, co-leading the U.S. delegation to the International Competition Network’s meeting last year. "Designing and implementing effective remedies in unilateral conduct cases presents one of the most important, yet daunting challenges competition authorities face," she said in a news release. "While the right remedy can restore much needed competition in a market, an ill-advised remedy can turn what could be a big victory for consumers into little more than a Pyrrhic victory."
From 1993-1996, Ramirez was an associate at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Los Angeles. She clerked for Alfred Goodwin in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit from 1992-1993.
In an October 2010 speech, she described her transition from private practice to the FTC as "something of a whirlwind." After she was confirmed in 2010, she said, "I only had a few weeks to wrap things up at my firm, find somewhere to live 3,000 miles away, say goodbye to family and friends, pack up and move cross-country, and decide whether an Angeleno could survive without a car in DC. (The answer is no—my car moved with me—although I’m proud to report that I actually walk to work many days.)."
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