WASHINGTON — A federal judge upheld the Obama administration’s ban on federally registered lobbyists serving on trade advisory boards and commissions in a ruling issued on Wednesday.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson dismissed the lawsuit brought by six lobbyists, including executives from the American Apparel & Footwear Association, National Council of Textile Organizations and National Retail Federation, challenging the Obama administration’s ban.
Stephen Lamar, executive vice president at AAFA; Erik Autor, vice president and international trade counsel at the NRF; Cass Johnson, president of NCTO, and Nate Herman, director of government relations at the Travel Goods Association were four of the six lobbyists named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit and well known in the industry.
The lawsuit charged that the Executive Branch’s policy to exclude the registered lobbyists from serving on the Industry Trade Advisory Committees, or ITACs, which are managed by the Commerce Department and the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, was unconstitutional because it violated their First Amendment rights and denied “equal protection of the laws.” Plaintiffs were seeking an injunction directing Commerce and USTR to consider their applications for membership to the ITACs, as well as a declaration that the policy is unconstitutional.
However, the judge sided with the government.
“…The plaintiffs have not supplied the necessary predicate for their First Amendment argument because the allegations in the complaint do not establish that service on an ITAC is a valuable government benefit that an individual committee member could receive,” the judge wrote in her ruling. “But even if it is, plaintiffs have not been denied that benefit on a basis that infringes upon their constitutionally protected rights and they have not been penalized for or inhibited in the exercise of their rights.”
The lawsuit stemmed from a policy directive handed down by the White House and President Obama in September 2009, informing federal agencies to bar federally registered lobbyists from serving on agency advisory boards and commissions, charging that “big money” special interest groups wielded too much influence in shaping policies. That move made it more difficult for the fashion industry’s cadre of lobbyists to influence the government’s trade policy and forced retailers and apparel brands, as well as the industry’s trade associations, to rethink their lobbying strategies with federal government agencies.
USTR shares jurisdiction with the Commerce Department over 16 industry trade advisory committees. The Obama administration’s policy left company executives, academics and other nonregistered experts to serve on the advisory committees.
A percentage of the textile and apparel ITAC 13, which has 34 members, was removed when the guidelines were enforced. The advisory committee now includes executives from companies such as Jockey International Inc., Mount Vernon Mills Inc., PVH Corp., Levi Strauss & Co. and VF Corp. Some members of the trade associations still sit on the ITACs, but they are not registered lobbyists.
Johnson of NCTO said at the time the lawsuit was filed that his 10 years of knowledge and experience of the industry were no longer directly available to the government as a result of the ban. He also argued that the ban, in addition to denying his First Amendment rights, essentially allowed big corporations to hire people to sit on the ITACs but put small and medium-size companies at a disadvantage because of the burdensome costs associated with hiring someone or assigning a new person.