Neomi Rao confirmed to succeed Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The Senate confirmed Neomi Rao to succeed Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit early Wednesday afternoon.
The 53-46 vote followed party lines. Rao overcame Democrats who opposed her nomination in view of opinion pieces she wrote for a college newspaper as an undergraduate at Yale and social conservatives who expressed misgivings about her views on social issues.
“Neomi Rao’s experience and intellect make her uniquely qualified to fill Justice Kavanaugh’s shoes on the D.C. Circuit,” Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network, said in a statement. “Rao will fairly apply the law and honor the Constitution; she’ll be a phenomenal judge serving on one of our nation’s highest courts.”
The D.C. Circuit is often styled the second most powerful court in the nation because its docket encompasses high-profile regulatory and separation of powers disputes. The court is also something of a farm team for the Supreme Court: Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Kavanaugh served on the D.C. Circuit prior to their elevation.
Rao is the eighth Thomas clerk confirmed to the federal bench since President Donald Trump took office.
As a professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School, Rao founded the Center for the Study of the Administrative and developed a reputation as a leading authority on regulatory issues. She served as the Trump administration’s deregulatory tzar prior to her nomination.
Despite strong support from the conservative legal establishment, Rao’s confirmation was periodically in doubt. Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled her over college-era opinion pieces in which she suggested women who drink heavily bear culpability for date rape. Others questioned the wisdom of affirmative action programs.
The Democratic attacks appeared to gain currency after GOP Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa called Rao’s undergraduate writings “troubling.” Ernst recently revealed that she was raped as a college student.
In turn, Rao submitted a letter to the committee largely denouncing her collegiate editorials.
“As a college student, I was sheltered,” she wrote. “Many years later, I have experienced more of the ups and downs of life.”
Rao also beat back skepticism from social conservatives. Her academic writings touching a legal theory called substantive due process — coupled with unverified rumors about her personal views — led some to speculate that she would not confine abortion or LGBT rights. GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri was the right’s leading Rao-skeptic.