The Revolving Door Spins Again


On January 24, President Obama announced his nominee for Chairman of the Securities Exchange Commission – Mary Jo White, a former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

By selecting White, the President is signaling an interest in seeing a more forceful approach at the Commission. Indeed, if confirmed, White will be the first former criminal prosecutor to head the SEC. Previous SEC chairs, by contrast, had established careers in private legal practice, in academia, in business, and in government, either as legislators or, in the case of Harvey Pitt, as general counsel to the SEC (before his long career in private legal practice) — but not as criminal prosecutors. Although White has little regulatory or policymaking experience, she brings to the table a wealth of experience in enforcement, which has been a top priority for the SEC in recent years.

As the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1993 to 2002, White is best known for winning convictions for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and for the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa as well as for winning the conviction of mobster John Gotti. The President emphasized, “Today . . . there are rules to end taxpayer-funded Wall Street bailouts once and for all. But it’s not enough to change the law. We also need cops on the beat to enforce the law.”

Since leaving the United States Attorney’s office, White has served on the board of directors of the NASDAQ Stock Market. White has yet to appear before the Senate Banking Committee, a first step in the confirmation process. In addition to her background as a prosecutor, the Senate will likely cover White’s experience at Debevoise & Plimpton, where she has practiced both before and since her time as United States Attorney.

There has been some commentary regarding White’s work in the private sector and whether she has moved too far away from her prosecutorial roots. General consensus is that confirmation by the Senate will not be difficult, however, as White appeals both to those seeking a tough regulator and to those who appreciate her distinguished private practice.