Republican attorneys general (AGs) from 19 states, led by Utah AG Sean D. Reyes, filed an amicus brief urging the Fifth Circuit to rehear a case after a panel of judges declined to entertain a lawsuit challenging diversity rules. The lawsuit was filed by two conservative groups, the Alliance for Fair Board Recruitment and National Center for Public Policy Research, in their attempt to overturn a Nasdaq rule that requires companies to disclose board diversity data. The AGs argue that the rule, which was approved by the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause and could undermine state law and policy on corporate board composition and racial and gender preferences.
The rule does not mandate that boards must appoint women, underrepresented minorities, or members of the LGBTQ+ community, but it does require companies without at least two directors from these demographics to explain their reasoning to investors. The plaintiffs argue that the rule leads to further discriminatory action.
The AGs are supporting the plaintiffs’ petition for an en banc review following the panel’s ruling that they could not sue the SEC because the agency approved a rule proposed by Nasdaq, and therefore does not constitute state action for purposes of constitutional challenge. The AGs argue that even if the rule was constitutional, the SEC lacks statutory authority to regulate the composition of corporate boards. They also contend that the Fifth Circuit’s opinion bypasses constitutional limitations by finding that the SEC’s actions are not state actions.
Why It Matters
The outcome of this case could not only impact the viability of legislation and rulemaking around corporate diversity initiatives, but also whether a federal agency’s approval of rules promulgated by large self-regulated institutions, such as Nasdaq, can constitute “state action” for purposes of constitutional scrutiny.
This litigation also demonstrates a growing trend of AGs using their influence to shape legislation and federal agency regulations/rulemaking by joining with other like-minded AGs to support legal challenges in courts of appeal that further the AGs political and policy objectives. In this instance, the litigation underscores the public and political debate around how best to encourage diversity at the highest levels of corporate America, where many Fortune 500 companies already voluntarily engage in DEI initiatives.
 The other states include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.
Troutman Pepper State Attorneys General Team
|Ashley Taylor – Co-leader and Firm Vice Chair
Ashley is a partner in the firm’s Regulatory Investigations, Strategy + Enforcement (RISE) Practice Group and co-leader of the State Attorneys General practice. He focuses primarily on federal and state government regulatory and enforcement matters involving state attorneys general, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Drawing upon his experience as a deputy attorney general, Ashley has developed an extensive consumer practice with regard to the consumer financial services industry.
|Clay Friedman – Co-leader
Clay is a partner in the firm’s Regulatory Investigations, Strategy + Enforcement (RISE) Practice Group and co-leader of the State Attorneys General practice. Informed by nearly a decade in a state attorneys general office, and more than 25 years in private practice, Clay spends much of his time representing clients in singular or multistate regulatory actions. Clay has repeatedly led teams before all 50 state attorneys general and also handles matters with the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and other local, state and federal agencies.
Judy is a partner in the firm’s Regulatory Investigations, Strategy and Enforcement (RISE) practice, based in the Richmond office. She brings experience serving as chair and commissioner of the Virginia State Corporate Commission (VSCC) from 2006 through 2022, which includes regulating the utilities, insurance, banking, and securities industries. She also served as Virginia’s attorney general from 2005-2006.
Stephen represents clients interacting with, and being investigated by, state attorneys general and other enforcement bodies, including the CFPB and FTC, as well as clients involved with litigation, particularly in heavily regulated industries.
A former deputy attorney general of New York, Avi applies his experience in bet-the-company matters, representing clients in criminal and civil investigations and enforcement actions before state and federal regulators, prosecutors and enforcement agencies.
Michael handles high-profile state attorneys general, FTC, and CFPB investigations by advising clients through these complex government inquiries. He assists clients through the entire life cycle of investigations, from regulatory enforcement through formal litigation.
|Samuel E. “Gene” Fishel
Gene is a member of the firm’s Regulatory Investigations, Strategy + Enforcement (RISE) practice, based in the Richmond office. He brings extensive regulatory experience, having most recently served as senior assistant attorney general and chief of the Computer Crime Section in the Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, and as special assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia for 20 years.
Tim is an attorney in the firm’s Regulatory Investigations, Strategy + Enforcement (RISE) Practice Group, with a primary focus on financial services litigation.
Chris represents clients in regulatory, civil and criminal investigations and litigation. In his practice, Chris regularly employs his prior regulatory experience to benefit clients who are interacting with and being investigated by state attorneys general.
Natalia is an associate in the firm’s business litigation practice. She recently received her J.D from the University of California, Davis School of Law.
Namrata is an associate in the firm’s Regulatory Investigations, Strategy + Enforcement (RISE) Practice Group, based in the Washington, D.C. office. Her work includes advising clients in regulatory investigations and compliance matters, in addition to representing clients in civil litigation matters.
Michael is an associate in the firm’s Regulatory Investigations, Strategy, and Enforcement Practice Group. Based out of the firm’s Boston office, Mike has deep experience in litigation, investigations, and other regulatory matters involving state-level regulators and state attorneys general.
Susan is an associate in the firm’s Consumer Financial Services Practice Group, and focuses her practice on consumer financial services matters. She has defended several of the nation’s largest and most influential financial institutions in individual and class action litigation involving the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), and other consumer privacy statutes. Susan also represents banks, fintechs, and financial services companies in connection with regulatory examinations and investigations brought by the CFPB, state attorneys general, and the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation.
John represents clients in a wide variety of general and complex litigation matters, shareholder disputes, products liability, and privacy claims.
Whitney is an attorney in the firm’s Regulatory Investigations, Strategy + Enforcement (RISE) Practice Group. She represents clients facing state and federal regulatory investigations and enforcement actions, as well as related civil litigation.
Trey is an associate in the firm’s Regulatory Investigations, Strategy + Enforcement practice. His experience includes serving as a summer associate at the firm in 2021.
An experienced litigator, Daniel advises and represents regional, national and international companies, financial institutions and insurers in all facets of business, complex commercial and insurance coverage litigation. He is committed to working with his clients to find creative solutions to meet their needs.
Stephanie is Troutman Pepper’s senior government relations manager in the state attorneys general department.