The Senate on Monday confirmed Mary Jo White to serve as head of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, an appointment the White House expects to send a "get tough" message to Wall Street.

White, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, was approved through a unanimous consent motion less than a month after her March 12 confirmation hearing. She faced little opposition during the committee vote on March 19, except from one Democratic senator who objected to White’s ties to Wall Street.

White has a reputation for being smart, fair and a tough enforcer. As the first female U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, she became known for taking down white-collar criminals, crime syndicate boss John Gotti and suspected terrorists.

White’s clients at Debevoise have included former Bank of America Corp. chief executive officer Kenneth Lewis and former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. director Rajat Gupta. The firm has represented financial giants including Morgan Stanley, Barclays Capital, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank Securities, HSBC and Wells Fargo Securities.

White’s background contrasts sharply with that of other recent SEC chairs, none of whom had experience as a prosecutor.

Mary Schapiro, who led the agency from 2009 until she stepped down in December, was formerly CEO of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and previously served as the leader of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Christopher Cox, who led the agency from 2005 to 2009, had been a member of Congress and a corporate partner at Latham & Watkins, while the SEC’s previous head, William Donaldson, was CEO of an investment banking firm.

The Senate did not act Monday on the nomination of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray was re-nominated to the post on the same day as White and had been going through the Senate confirmation process at the same time. The Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs approved Cordray in a 12-to-10 vote along party lines.

There is no indication Cordray will get a vote soon. In February, 43 Republican senators sent a letter to President Barack Obama pledging to block a vote on Cordray’s nomination "until key structural changes are made to ensure accountability and transparency" at the agency, which was created by the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act.

Todd Ruger can be contacted at