As we count down the last days of March, we mark the end of Christine Wilson’s tenure at the Federal Trade Commission. Set to resign March 31, Commissioner Wilson will have served four and a half years at the FTC – a little longer than a single presidential term. What many probably don’t know, however, is that she had prepared for this job her entire professional life.

Back in the 90s, Christine and I were associates together and office neighbors during the glorious run of years when Jim Rill and the Collier Shannon Rill & Scott Antitrust Group were at the very top of the competition bar. Christine quickly became a go-to associate for the senior partners in the group, due to her pluck and intelligence and willingness to go the extra mile (one unconfirmed rumor at the time had her walking Mr. Rill’s dog while he was away on vacation).

It was clear from the beginning that Christine was driven by a Tracy Flick-like ambition that would propel her to the very top of her profession: she was a model associate, smart and confident beyond her years, and unintimidated by the Professor Kingsfield treatment that was a part of the partner-associate dynamic at the time.

I remember one early morning as a junior associate when Mr. Rill summoned me to his office. He told me to return in two hours and tell him everything I had learned in those two hours about Venezuelan competition law. This, in the pre-Google days of yellow pads and dusty digests. Christine would have nailed it and included an overview of merger control practices in neighboring Andean countries. My pathetic summary and Mr. Rill’s reaction were akin to the trembling Scarecrow before the Great and Powerful Oz. I even remember thinking as I left his office -- if I only had a brain.

Two years ago, at the ABA Antitrust Section In-House Institute, I interviewed Christine and we reminisced about those halcyon days:

Me: Commissioner Wilson, am I correct in my recollection that, when we were junior associates, you told me that you would be an FTC Commissioner someday?

Christine: No John, that’s not right. I didn’t say I would be a Commissioner, I said I would be Chair.

This exchange says so much about Christine: a beam of ambition, with the singular and unwavering purpose of serving at the highest level of the Federal Trade Commission. Now she has, and her tenure will be remembered as both substantive and increasingly spicy, as the Commission has become more and more partisan. As we have seen, Christine has pulled no punches. Just a few examples:

  • That didn’t take long. Soon after the Supreme Court unanimously rebuked the Federal Trade Commission for seeking monetary remedies not permitted by Section 13(b) of the FTC Act — remedies that, in fairness to the agency, were blessed by appellate courts for decades—the Commission now votes to accept monetary remedies not permitted by Section 19. The Supreme Court handed down its decision in AMG Capital Management, LLC v. FTC in April and made clear that the words of a statute matter. Those words trump the policy preferences of commissioners. That decision should have been a wake-up call, a reminder to the Commission that, no matter how egregious the conduct or righteous our cause, the Commission is not entitled to go beyond the bounds of what the law permits.” (Resident Home LLC., FTC File No. 2023179, Oct. 7, 2021 Dissenting Statement).
  • It is the new path that is likely to fail. Today, I will discuss four mistakes the Neo-Brandeisians are making that will almost certainly lead to the failure of their agenda. (There are others – like the fact that revolutionaries do not make good bureaucrats – but time is tight.) I disagree with many of their goals, so their failure won’t keep me up at night. Here’s what does keep me awake: I fear damage to the economy and grave harm to the institution and FTC community that I love.” Commissioner Christine Wilson, Remarks for the ABA Antitrust Law Section’s 2021 Fall Forum: The Neo-Brandeisian Revolution: Unforced Errors and the Diminution of the FTC (Nov. 9, 2021).
  • In 2020, 87% of responding FTC employees agreed that senior leaders maintain high standards of honesty and integrity; that number fell to 53% in 2021 and declined further to 49% in 2022. Among all surveyed federal agencies, the FTC plummeted from best in 2020 to worst in 2021” Resignation Letter from Commissioner Wilson to President Biden (Mar. 2, 2023).
  • We all know the simple rule: If you see something, say something. As an antitrust lawyer, I counseled clients to avoid trouble by knowing when to object and how to exit. When my clients attended trade association gatherings, I advised them to leave quickly if discussions with competitors took a wrong turn and raised alarm bells about price fixing or other illegal activity. Make a noisy exit—say, spill a pitcher of water—so that attendees remember that you objected and that you left. Although serving as an FTC commissioner has been the highest honor of my professional career, I must follow my own advice and resign in the face of continuing lawlessness. Consider this my noisy exit.” Christine Wilson, Why I’m Resigning as an FTC Commissioner, Wall Street Journal (Feb. 14, 2023).

Noisy indeed. But when you cut through the noise, it is easy to distill a few basic observations about Christine as Commissioner: she is committed to the idea that transparency empowers individuals to make informed choices; she believes the Agency should protect consumers and provide clarity to stakeholders, without unduly burdening legitimate business activity; she relies on and values the FTC professional staff (especially her very capable attorney advisors, such as Bobbi Spector, Nina Frant, and [Collier Shannon Rill & Scott alum] Tom Klotz); and, when it comes to the FTC, she is a student of historical experience and a believer in the Agency’s possibilities.

Christine’s perspective will be missed. It was on full display again just this past Thursday, in a thoughtful and detailed dissent to the FTC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Negative Option Rule. And, while her toe-to-toes with her Democratic colleagues in recent years have inspired a range of reactions, including at times -- admit it -- entertainment, no one doubts that she has been motivated by her belief in the Agency’s capacity to do good. As she exits, it is satisfying to know that her motivation now will be directed to a nonprofit that will assist victims of sex trafficking, formed with her husband Ramsay (another Collier Shannon Rill & Scott alum!).

There is a line in the movie Election, when Tracy Flick looks into the camera and says: Some people say I’m an overachiever, but I think they’re just jealous.” Well, when it comes to Christine’s tenure at the FTC, her achievements should make us all a little jealous. We congratulate her for realizing her career ambition, thank her for her service, and wish her well in her next endeavor.