FTC Commissioner Edith Ramirez Named by Obama as Chairman

Edith Ramirez, a campaign official for President Barack Obama and one of his law school classmates, will be named as head the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, where she has been a commissioner for almost three years, according to a White House official.

Ramirez, 44, an intellectual property lawyer, served as an editor of the Harvard Law Review in 1990 and 1991 when Obama was its president. In 2008, Ramirez, who is Mexican-American and bilingual, was the Obama campaign’s Latino outreach director in California. She has been on the commission since April 2010.

The official asked for anonymity to discuss the appointment because the decision has not been announced.

“She’s not as much of a known quantity as some others, but she has a reputation for being smart and extremely capable,” said Jonathan Kanter, an antitrust lawyer with Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP.

Ramirez has kept a low profile as a commissioner compared with some of her colleagues, including fellow Democrat Julie Brill, who was also mentioned as a potential chairman in press reports in publications such as the Hill.

While Brill listed 30 speeches and interviews for 2012 on her FTC web page, Ramirez cited eight. In her comments, Brill has been outspoken on issues including online privacy, protecting consumers from financial fraud and preserving competition in the health-care and high-tech industries.

Children’s Privacy

Ramirez’s public remarks in 2012, apart from official FTC statements, included discussion of children’s online privacy and intellectual property issues in technology and antitrust.

Addressing agency efforts to safeguard children’s online privacy, Ramirez said during a speech in October that she took “some comfort from the fact that the FTC’s proposal has generated opposition from industry and privacy advocates alike. Perhaps that means that we are in fact on the path to toward a regulatory ‘sweet spot.’”

In an interview last year, Ramirez explained why she voted in favor of withdrawing an appeal of a court order that denied the FTC’s request to block Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings from buying Westcliff Medical Laboratories Inc. It was because the merger process had already begun, she said in the spring 2012 newsletter of the American Bar Association’s mergers and acquisitions committee.

‘Limited Resources’

The commission’s ability to obtain effective relief after the integration “would have been very limited,” Ramirez said. “And that was foremost in my mind, particularly given the agency’s limited resources.”

Jeffrey Chester, of the Center for Digital Democracy, a Washington-based nonprofit that seeks to protect consumer interests in digital media, said, “She is concerned about how these decisions affect everyday consumers. That’s sometimes rare at the commission.”

Ramirez “tries to get input from all sides” he said. “She does her homework. She listens. She’s been a team player primarily.”

She sided with the majority of the commissioners to approve a consent decree with Google Inc. over its use of patents that cover key industry technology and in another case regarding patent use against Robert Bosch GmbH. Ramirez also spoke on patent reform and the proper scope of injunctive relief to an American Bar Association meeting in Seattle in November 2012.

Ramirez has dissented. Last February, she voted against the commission’s delay to an order prohibiting the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners from restricting anyone but dentists from selling teeth-whitening services.

Dissenting Opinion

“The harm resulting from the board’s exclusionary conduct will continue if the order is not enforced,” Ramirez wrote in her dissent. “The non-dentist providers who exited the market after receiving cease and desist letters from the board will likely remain out of the market unless corrective action is taken, thereby depriving consumers of access to less expensive services.”

The dental board appealed the FTC order to a federal court and a decision is pending.

A graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, Ramirez was an associate at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP and a Los Angeles-based partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP before Obama tapped her for the FTC.

At Quinn Emanuel, she specialized in complex business litigation, including intellectual property, unfair competition and trademark disputes.

Early in her career, Ramirez was a law clerk for Circuit Judge Alfred Goodwin of the U.S. Court of Appeals Court in San Francisco.

In September 2005, Ramirez was appointed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to the board of commissioners for the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, the nation’s largest municipal utility, serving until February 2010.

Brill remains on the commission and another Democratic slot is unfilled. The Republicans on the panel are Joshua Wright and Maureen Olhausen.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.