Timothy Reif – Nominee to the U.S. Court of International Trade

Nominations to the U.S. Court of International Trade, which hears cases involving international trade and customs laws, have generally not drawn the level of rancor that other judicial nominations have.  The last Obama judicial nominees confirmed by a Republican Senate in 2016, for example, were two selections for the Court of International Trade.  Timothy Reif, tapped by President Trump to fill a longstanding vacancy on the court, looks likely to maintain that tradition.

Background

Timothy Mark Reif was born in New York City on April 12, 1959.  Reif attended Princeton University and Columbia Law School.[1]  He was also a Fulbright Scholar, spending a year in Egypt.

After graduating law school, Reif joined Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy LLP as an Associate.[2]  In 1987, Reif joined the U.S. Trade Commission as an Attorney Advisor, and, in 1989, moved to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.[3]

In 1993, Reif joined the House Committee on Ways and Means as Trade Counsel.  He left in 1995 after Republicans took control of Congress to join Dewey Ballantine LLP as Special International Trade Counsel.[4]  In 1998, he returned to the Committee to serve as Chief International Trade Counsel, where he stayed until 2009.

In 2009, Reif joined the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative as General Counsel.[5]  In 2017, he became Senior Advisor to the Trade Representative, where he serves today.

History of the Seat

Reif has been nominated for a seat vacated by Judge Richard Eaton, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, on August 22, 2014.  President Obama nominated Elizabeth J. Drake, a D.C. based attorney, to fill the vacancy on July 30, 2015, but Drake was never processed by the Republican-controlled Senate.  While Drake was supported by a unanimous Senate Judiciary Committee vote, she never received a final confirmation on the Senate floor.

In the Fall of 2017, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer recommended Reif for an appointment to the U.S. Court of International Trade.[6]  Reif interviewed with the White House in December 2017 and was nominated on June 18, 2018.

Political Activity

Reif has been a lifelong Democrat, volunteering for Ted Kennedy’s Presidential campaign in 1980, and volunteering for the Presidential campaigns of John Kerry and Barack Obama.[7]  Reif also donated to the campaign of Hillary Clinton in 2016.[8]

Legal Experience

Throughout his career, Reif has taken on many different positions, working with the U.S. Trade Representative, in Congress, and in private practice.

U.S. Trade Representative

Between 1989 and 1993, and, since 2009, Reif has worked for the U.S. Trade Representative, negotiating trade agreements and representing the United States in international tribunals.  Notably, Reif is one of the few Obama Administration officials to continue to serve to this day in the Trump Administration.

As general counsel to the U.S. Trade Representative, Reif challenged European Union subsidies offered to Airbus, arguing that they were intended to undercut competition from Boeing.[9]  Reif also defended U.S. Country of Origin labeling and Dolphin-Safe Tuna labeling against challenges from Canada and Mexico respectively.[10]

Committee on Ways and Means

From 1993 to 1994, and then from 1998 to 2009, Reif worked for the House Committee on Ways and Means, advising members on trade issues.  Reif’s tenure coincided with both Democratic and Republican majorities on the Committee, during the latter of which, Reif served as lead Democratic trade counsel.  During this time, Reif helped work on a bill normalizing trade relations with Vietnam.[11]

Private Practice

From 1995 to 1998, Reif worked as Special International Trade Counsel at Dewey Ballantine.  In that position, Reif represented clients working with the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  During that time, Reif was also involved in a fierce dispute over two paintings by Austrian painter Egon Schiele.[12]  The paintings were once owned by his ancestor Fritz Grunbaum and were seized by the Nazis after Grunbaum was sent to a concentration camp.[13]  Reif sought a claim to heirship of the paintings, under display in the Leopold Foundation in Vienna.[14]

Overall Assessment

As noted above, nominations to the Court of International Trade are usually non-controversial.  Reif’s is likely to particularly so, given his Democratic pedigree and his broad experience with issues of international trade.  As such, Reif is likely to secure a near unanimous confirmation to this unique tribunal.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Timothy M. Reif: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See id. at 2.

[3] Id. at 1.

[4] Id. at 2.

[5] See id. 

[6] See id. at 55-56.

[7] See Reif, supra n. 1 at 41.

[9] Nicola Clark, Trade Group Rules Broadly for Boeing; Airbus Got Subsidies for all Planes, But Not All Were Illegal, WTO Says, Int’l Herald Tribune, July 1, 2010.  

[10] Tim Carman, Tuna, Meat Labels Face International Challenges, Wash. Post, Jan. 11, 2012.

[11] David J. Lynch, Vietnam Trade Bill Grinds to a Halt; Bush Will Show Up For Visit Overseas Empty-Handed as Vote Delayed Until December, USA Today, Nov. 15, 2006.

[12] Judith B. Dobrzynski, More Paintings by Schiele Face Ownership Questions, N.Y. Times, Jan. 15, 1998.

[13] See id.

[14] Judith B. Dobrzynski, German Court Revokes Ruling on Ownership of a Schiele Painting, N.Y. Times, Apr. 16, 1998.

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