WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to advance the nomination of Neomi Rao to replace Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The committee voted along party lines, 12-10, to send the nomination to the full Senate despite concerns from members of both parties about her past writings on gender equality and sexual assault as well as her record as a regulatory official.
Rao, 45, is currently President Donald Trump’s “regulatory czar” at the little known but powerful Office of Informational and Regulatory Affairs. The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, said she opposed the nominee because of her “troubling and aggressive record” at unwinding environmental, labor and Title IX protections. The D.C. Circuit often hears cases involving regulations and federal agencies — and can be a springboard to nominees for the Supreme Court.
Ultimately all 12 Republicans on the committee voted in favor after Rao met privately with two who had expressed reservations about her past writings.
Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa had expressed concerns during Rao's confirmation hearing last month over her writings about women and sexual assault as a student at Yale University. Ernst said she had “hesitations” about the vote, calling Rao's college writings “abhorrent.”
Ernst said she had decided to support Rao because of her “unique perspectives on administrative law.” But she offered a warning shot should Rao ever be nominated to the Supreme Court: “My decision and my vetting process may be very different.”
The other Republican to meet privately with Rao, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, raised last-minute concerns about her position on abortion, saying he was concerned that the nominee was not sufficiently opposed to abortion rights.
Rao met Hawley in his temporary office in the basement of a Senate office building on the eve of the hearing, and Hawley announced Thursday morning at the committee meeting that he would vote to advance the nomination, calling his meeting with her “particularly instructive.” He said that she had assured him that she believes that the text of the Constitution is “fixed.”
While attending Yale, Rao often wrote about date rape, sexual assault and the responsibility of those involved. At times, she placed the onus on women to “accept responsibility.”
At her confirmation hearing, Rao insisted that “no one should blame a victim” of sexual assault, but she also said some of what she wrote amounted to “common sense observations” that would make women less likely to be victims of assault.
She later wrote a letter to the committee attempting to further distance herself from those writings.