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FTC Commissioner Nominee Lina Khan Highlights Role of Agency During her Confirmation Hearings

FTC Commissioner Nominee Lina Khan Highlights Role of Agency During her Confirmation Hearings

Staff Writer
  • The 32-year-old Pakistan American receives less resistance from the GOP, which might consider her to be an ally in their fight with the Big Tech.

Lina Khan, President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as a commissioner on the Federal Trade Commission, highlighted some of the challenges facing the agency and how to protect consumers in the information age, during her confirmation hearing with the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, April 21. A prominent anti-monopoly advocate and former House Judiciary staffer, Khan is currently an associate professor at Columbia Law School.

If confirmed, Khan, 32, will fill the seat vacated by former FTC Chairman Joseph Simons. Her confirmation will also create a 3-2 Democratic majority, with Khan, Rohit Chopra, and Rebecca Slaughter (who currently serves as Acting Chair.) If confirmed, she will be the 18th woman to serve as FTC commissioner, and the third Asian-American Pacific Islander after her former boss, Rohit Chopra, and Commissioner Dennis Yao, a Democrat nominated to the agency by President George H.W. Bush. 

Khan previously served as a legal fellow in Chopra’s office in 2018. The two wrote a paper last year arguing the FTC has the authority to craft new rules targeting anticompetitive practices, an idea gaining traction at the agency. She went on to serve as majority counsel for the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee, “helping shape a sweeping report published after a year-long investigation,” Axios reported.

According to Politico, the White House is delaying Chopra’s confirmation as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, until Khan is confirmed “to avoid the 2-1 Republican majority” that would result if Chopra were to resign from the FTC before Simons’ seat is filled. Khan’s confirmation hearing marks a watershed moment in federal efforts to rein in big tech companies. Although Khan has helped define broad new ways to think about how antitrust law should apply to modern technology companies, Politico notes that “a seat on the FTC which has the power to investigate and sue companies, would put her at the center of D.C.’s regulatory action.”

Conspicuously absent was the GOP’s effort to mobilize against Khan, a Pakistani American, unlike some of the hostility seen during confirmation hearings of other women of color like Vanita Gupta.

Critics of tech have hailed Khan as a hero, while other pro-tech and free market groups have decried her ideas as heavy-handed, overreaching and out of touch with how people actually use and enjoy technology platforms. Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Institute told Politico that if Khan gets confirmed, “it suggests that the administration is serious about meaningful enforcement of the antitrust laws after 40 years of a disastrous pro-concentration approach.”

At the confirmation hearing, Khan got a somewhat encouraging response from the GOP members on the committee, a sign that the Republicans could possibly see her as an ally in their fight against BigTech. Conspicuously absent was the GOP’s effort to mobilize against Khan, a Pakistani American, unlike some of the hostility seen during confirmation hearings of other women of color like Vanita Gupta, Biden’s nominee for Deputy Attorney General, and Neera Tandon, who eventually withdrew her nomination as head of the Office of Management and Budget.

Some resistance came from Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) who asked her about Section 230, which provides immunity for website platforms from third-party content. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has been vocal about his concerns with her views and lack of experience.After Khan’s nomination was announced, Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, said last month that Khan lacks the experience necessary for the role and her antitrust views go too far. “This moment is too important for our antitrust enforcers to be learning on the job,” Lee said in March.

As an associate professor of law at Columbia Law School, Khan teaches and writes on antitrust law, infrastructure industries law, and the antimonopoly tradition. Prior to joining Columbia, Khan served as counsel to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, where she led the congressional investigation into digital markets and the publication of its final report.

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For the past four years, the FTC was led by Ajit Pai, who resigned in January. Pai’s tenure at the nation’s top telecoms agency was both controversial and consequential, with the ending of net neutrality and telecom deregulation. 

Khan’s academic work “examines the limits of the current paradigm in antitrust law, assessing how its welfare-based framework fails to capture empirical realities and betrays the republican origins of antitrust,” as per her website.  Several of her projects “have focused on how dominant digital-era firms freshly reveal these shortcomings and demand an approach to anti monopoly that is animated by questions of power, distribution, and democracy.” Her work has been published by the Columbia Law Review, Harvard Law Review, The University of Chicago Law Review, and The Yale Law Journal.

During law school, Khan litigated on behalf of homeowners through Yale’s Mortgage Foreclosure Litigation Clinic and spent summers at law firms Gupta Wessler and Cohen Milstein, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Khan is a graduate of Williams College and Yale Law School, where was awarded the Reinhardt Fellowship for public interest law. She was among several South Asian Americans named in Time Next 100, highlighting emerging leaders who are shaping the future.

Khan was born in London and moved to the U.S. with her family at age 11. A Williams College graduate, she earned a JD from Yale University, where she served as submissions editor of the Yale Journal on Regulation. Before joining Yale, she worked at the New America Foundation, where she did anti-monopoly research and wrote for the Open Markets Program. She is married to Shah Ali, a cardiologist.

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