Neomi Rao, Kavanaugh’s D.C. Circuit replacement, quizzed on sexual assault, feminism

February 5, 2019

The woman tapped to take Justice Brett M. Kanavaugh’s old spot on the circuit appeals court in Washington was forced Tuesday to defend her college writings that suggested women who drink to excess may be partly to blame for sexual assaults.

Neomi Rao, nominated to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, distanced herself from her Yale University musings from two decades ago.

“I tried to make the common-sense observation that women can take some steps to try to avoid becoming a victim,” she told the Judiciary Committee at her confirmation hearing.

“Should someone be a victim, they should not be blamed,” she added.

Ms. Rao, currently an official with the White House Office of Management and Budget, found herself under fire from both sides of the aisle, with Sen. Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican, questioning Ms. Rao’s writing on feminist idealism that teaches women are equal to men is dangerous.

“I very much regret that statement,” Ms. Rao said. “I’m honestly not sure why I wrote that in college.”

Ms. Ernst said she was concerned.

“I’ve had a chance to review a number of your writings while you were in college and they do give me pause not just in regard to my personal experiences but regarding a message we are sending young women everywhere,” said Ms. Ernst, who recently revealed she was raped while in college.

“I’ve said time and time again we need to change the culture around sexual violence,” said Ms. Ernst, who is new to the Judiciary Committee.

Ms. Rao, in her 1994 writing in The Yale Herald, said that if a woman “drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was part of her choice.”

She went on to say college students both male and female want to drink and forget about their papers so they can have fun. She suggested women shouldn’t be treated differently based on sex stereotyping.

“Implying that a drunk woman has no control of her actions, but that a drunk man does, strips women of all moral responsibility. It creates a culture of victimization in which men are prowling and uncontrollable, and women are weak and helpless,” she wrote in the article, titled “Shades of Gray.”

Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, defended Ms. Rao, saying the type of advice she gave women is the type he believes all children including his young daughters should be given about drinking to excess in college.

“Senate Judiciary Committee hearings should not be a theater for mischaracterizing and twisting a nominees views,” he said.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, praised Ms. Rao’s professional record.

“I find it very interesting that much of the day has been focused on writings that you did in your college years,” she said.

Ms. Rao was rated “well qualified” for the judgeship by the American Bar Association. She is a first-generation American, as the child of Indian immigrants.

In addition to her government work, Ms. Rao teaches administrative law at George Mason University.

Democrats, in addition to questioning Ms. Rao’s college writings, worried over her refusal to commit to recusing herself from deciding any cases involving issues she’s dealt with while leading Mr. Trump’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

Ms. Rao said she would consider recusal on a case-by-case basis.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, took issue with Ms. Rao never having tried a case in federal or state court.

“You assume that the judges no matter who appointed them certainly those of us that are arguing before it assume they have some idea about what the courtroom is like,” Mr. Leahy said.