A liberal women’s rights group is asking senators to question two key nominees to the Federal Trade Commission at a confirmation hearing Wednesday about their ties to an influential conservative law professor accused of sexual harassment.
Joshua Wright, himself a former Federal Trade Commission member who became a professor at George Mason University’s law school, is facing accusations of sexual harassment from at least eight women who say he pressured them to have sex with him in order to advance their careers. Wright resigned as a professor late last month and filed a $108 million defamation lawsuit against two of his accusers.
George Mason has long been considered one of the nation’s more conservative law schools and bears the name of Antonin Scalia, the right-wing Supreme Court justice who died in 2016. Its administration faces allegations it failed to properly investigate what Bloomberg News called the “open secret” of Wright’s misconduct because of his influence in conservative and libertarian legal circles, where he has been at the center of a network of scholars and corporate interests working to push back against the revolution in antitrust thinking advanced by FTC Chair Lina Khan and other progressives.
Now UltraViolet, a liberal women’s rights nonprofit, has sent a letter to Senate Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and ranking member Ted Cruz (R-Texas) asking the senators to question the two Republican nominees to the commission ― Utah Solicitor General Melissa Holyoak and Virginia Solicitor General Andrew Ferguson ― about whether Wright played any role in securing their nominations.
The group wants senators to ask whether either Ferguson or Holyoak were in touch with Wright before or after their nominations, whether they were aware of the alleged “open secret” of Wright’s behavior before it was publicly reported in August and whether they believed George Mason University acted properly in handling Wright’s case.
Shauna Thomas, the co-founder of UltraViolet, said it was important to uphold a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment at government agencies like the FTC.
“The reason sexual harassment and abuse has flourished, has been an epidemic in this country is precisely because bystanders and enablers have prioritized their own careers, their own reputations to protect people who have repeatedly sexually harassed or abused people,” Thomas told HuffPost. “If people ignored Josh Wright’s behavior to advance their own careers, that could compromise the FTC’s commitment to that policy.”
The five-member FTC is now controlled by supporters of Khan’s antitrust agenda, but by law the commission can have no more than three members of any one party. Traditionally, the Senate leader of the party out of power ― in this case, Mitch McConnell ― gets to pick the nominees for his party. McConnell selected Ferguson, a former aide, and Holyoak, and both are expected to largely oppose Khan’s agenda.
So far, Holyoak’s nomination has generated more opposition than Ferguson’s. A coalition of conservative groups sent a letter to Republican senators on the Commerce Committee suggesting she was too close to Big Tech, and liberal groups have made similar accusations.
The FTC is expected to file a major lawsuit against Amazon later this month, alleging antitrust law violations. It is also developing a rule to ban non-compete agreements, which restrict the prospects of former employees. The proposed rule has generated significant opposition from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other industry groups.