Liberal activists are targeting President Donald Trump'son a high-profile appeals court, citing what they call her extreme views on race, sexual assault and LGBT rights.
Trump nominated Neomi Rao for a seat on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit left vacant when Kavanaugh joined the Supreme Court. She currently serves as administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, where she plays key role in Trump's efforts to roll back federal rules and regulations.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is considering Rao's nomination at a hearing Tuesday. Rao, 45, worked in the George W. Bush White House but has never tried a case in court.
Critics have seized on her college writings in which she criticized affirmative action, suggested that intoxicated women were partly responsible for date rape and said LGBT rights were part of a "trendy" political movement. The 1995 Yale graduate also faulted environmental groups that "accept issues such as global warming as truth with no reference to the prevailing scientific doubts."
Dan Goldberg, legal director of the left-leaning Alliance for Justice, called Rao's writings "deeply troubling," especially on sexual assault.
"They are vile, they are terrible and she has never disavowed those views," he said.
Goldberg and other critics said Rao's writings, in Yale's college newspaper and in other publications, can be directly connected to her work at the White House, where she oversees Trump's bid to dismantle rules that protect the environment, consumers and workers. Trump says the rules destroy jobs and stifle economic growth.
If confirmed, Rao "will have power to impose these narrow-minded views for decades and turn back the clock and destroy rights and protections that millions of Americans rely on," Goldberg said.
At the start of Tuesday's hearing, Rao was directly pressed on her writings by committee chairman Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Rao appeared to explain her rationale for her writings, saying her time in college was a "time of exploration" where she spent time studying political philosphy and social commentary. She said, however, that she looks back at her Yale writings and "cringes" at some of the language she used.
"I was young, it's over two decades now, I was responding to things that were happening on campus at that time," explained Rao. She added that since her time at Yale she's "matured as a thinker, a writer and a person."
Shiwali Patel, senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center, called Rao a "rape apologist" and said her promotion to the D.C-based appeals court, widely viewed as the nation's second-most important court, would endanger women.
Rao's nomination is particularly troubling since it comes just a few months after sexual assault accusations against Kavanaugh in hearings that riveted the country, Patel said. Rao told lawmakers that in her writings, she raised the issue of holding men accountable for sexual assault and rape, but also discussed "some actions a woman could take to make it less likely to be a victim of those horrible crimes."
"Barely a few months after the country heard from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford about sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh, a rape apologist could potentially fill his seat on the D.C. Circuit," she said.
In a 1994 opinion column, Rao wrote: "Unless someone made her drinks undetectably strong or forced them down her throat, a woman, like a man, decides when and how much to drink. And if she drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was a part of her choice."
A good way to avoid a potential rape "is to stay reasonably sober," Rao added.
She also said Yale has "dedicated itself to a relatively firm meritocracy, which drops its standards only for a few minorities, some legacies and a football player here or there."
And she said a decades-long struggle for LGBT rights was part of "trendy political movements" that "have only recently added sexuality to the standard checklist of traits requiring tolerance."
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, focused on Rao's role at the White House.
"Neomi Rao has led the Trump administration's efforts to abolish regulations protecting consumers, the environment and students," Feinstein said in a statement Monday. One rule in particular, to increase fuel economy standards for cars, is based on a law Feinstein co-authored.
"Not only did Rao advance a flawed justification for freezing those standards, she indicated she would rule against an agency's ability to write the standards," Feinstein said.
Senate Republicans pushed back against Rao's critics, saying her college writings are not outside the mainstream. GOP staffers circulated a series of articles by female writers, including a 2013 column in the online magazine Slate by Emily Yoffe.
"Let's be totally clear: Perpetrators are the ones responsible for committing their crimes, and they should be brought to justice," Yoffe wrote. "But we are failing to let women know that when they render themselves defenseless, terrible things can be done to them. That's not blaming the victim; that's trying to prevent more victims."
Democrats are also expected to focus on Rao's comments indicating she would have voted to overturn the Affordable Care Act and her view that the president should be able to fire the heads of independent agencies such as the Federal Reserve.
They also want to explore her views on executive power and what, limits, if any, apply to the president's authority over special counsel Robert Mueller, who oversees the Russia election meddling probe.
The American Bar Association said Monday it has deemed Rao "well-qualified" for the appeals court.
First published on February 5, 2019
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