On Tuesday, Joseph Simons was sworn in as the new Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. The five-member Commission will soon be at full strength, as Simons is set to be joined by four other new FTC Commissioners, each of which were confirmed for seven-year terms by the Senate on April 26: Democrats Rebecca Kelly Slaughter and Rohit Chopra, and Republicans Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson. Slaughter, Chopra, and Phillips are each expected to be sworn in this week, although Wilson will not take office until the Senate confirms Commissioner Ohlhausen’s nomination as a judge on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
The new Commissioners, with the exception of Slaughter, have backgrounds focusing more on competition and antitrust matters, as opposed to privacy and consumer protection. As such, we will have to wait and see as to their views on privacy issues, and the FTC’s resulting priorities.
Simons comes to the FTC from private practice, but also previously served in antitrust positions at the FTC. He most recently co-chaired the Antitrust Group at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Warton & Garrison LLP. Simons previously served as the Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition from 2001 to 2003, and as the Associate Director for Mergers and the Assistant Director for Evaluation at the FTC in the 1980s.
Phillips joins the Commission from Capitol Hill. He was most recently chief counsel to Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), with whom he has served since 2011. Prior to that, he was an attorney in private practice in New York and Washington, D.C. In a statement following Phillips’ nomination, Senator Cornyn noted that Phillips’ “extensive work on the Judiciary Committee will serve him well” in his new role as an FTC Commissioner.
Wilson, who is set to join Simons and Phillips as the third Republican FTC Commissioner, most recently served as the senior vice president for regulatory and international affairs at Delta Air Lines Inc. Prior to that, Wilson was a partner at Kirkland & Ellis, where she focused on competition and antitrust law. Like Simons, she has prior FTC experience, having served as chief of staff to FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris during the George W. Bush administration.
Chopra is the only non-lawyer among the new FTC Commissioners, although he does have a consumer protection background and prior government experience. Chopra joins the FTC from the Consumer Federation of America, and his biography there notes that he is “widely recognized for his expertise in consumer financial services and economic issues facing young people.” In 2016, Chopra served as Special Adviser to the Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education. He previously served as assistant director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shortly after its founding in 2010, and was named as the agency’s first student loan ombudsman in 2011.
Slaughter most recently served as chief counsel to Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), with whom she has worked since 2009. According to the White House statement announcing Slaughter’s nomination, she advised Senator Schumer on “legal, competition, telecom, privacy, consumer protection, and intellectual property matters, among other issues.” Prior to her Capitol Hill experience, Slaughter was an associate attorney at a law firm in Washington, D.C.
While each of the new Commissioners has previously served in government, only Slaughter appears to have worked specifically on privacy issues. Therefore, while it stands to reason that the newly reconstituted FTC will shift focus compared to the prior Democratic administration, it remains to be seen what the Commission’s priorities will be with respect to privacy regulation and enforcement.