Neomi Rao, Donald Trump’s nominee to replace Brett Kavanaugh on the federal appeals court in Washington, is attempting to distance herself from some of her past comments on rape and sexual assault.
Rao, a conservative who, like many of her peers, has expressed horrendous views on race, gender equality, feminism, and LGBTQ people (and weirdly, defends the very fucked up activity known as “dwarf-tossing”), responded to a litany of questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during Tuesday’s confirmation hearing. The questions included references to numerous articles she wrote in college, including one in the Yale Herald which expressed some questionable opinions about victims of date rape:
“A man who rapes a drunk girl should be prosecuted. At the same time, a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober. And if she drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was part of her choice... Implying that a drunk woman has no control of her actions, but that a drunk man does strips women of all moral responsibility.”
Rao, 45, said that some of her college writing made her “cringe” and that she has “matured as a person” since then, but stood by the above comments on drinking and rape.
“In some of my writings, I talked about the issue of rape and sexual assault and I emphasized that rape and sexual assault are crimes for which men should be held accountable and that no one should blame a victim of sexual assault or rape,” she told Lindsey Graham. “I also attempted to make the common sense observation that there were some actions a woman could take to make it less likely to be a victim of those horrible crimes.”
Republican Senator Joni Ernst, who in January revealed that she is a survivor of sexual assault, was far more critical of Rao’s writings than Graham. “I’m not going to mince words,” Ernst said. “I’ve had a chance to review a number of your writings while you were in college and they do give me pause. And not just from my own personal experiences but regarding a message that we are sending young women everywhere.”
In particular, Ernst raised concerns over a 1993 article in which Rao praised Camille Paglia for her views on rape (which are very, very bad) and for “accurately” describing “the dangerous feminist idealism which teaches women that they are equal.”
“Is that a dangerous feminist ideal, that women are created equal?” Ernst asked.
“Senator, I very much regret that statement,” Rao said, stating she believes that men and women are equal. “I’m honestly not sure why I wrote that in college.”
In her current position as White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs head, Rao is Trump’s “regulatory czar,” in charge of making sure that agency regulations carry out the administration’s agenda. As an appeals court judge, she will suddenly be in a position to rule on some of the very regulations over which she currently regulates—including the loosening of Title IX sexual assault regulations and increases the burden on victims.
When questioned by Democrats, Rao said she would “look carefully at the statutory standards of recusal” and “follow the practices of the DC Circuit,” but did not vow to recuse herself.
Though Rao has attempted to walk away from her college days, some of her post-college views are troubling, too. In another moment during the confirmation hearing, Rao recognized that the Supreme Court’s decision to desegregate schools in Brown v. The Board of Education set “a really important precedent of the Supreme Court,” but when pressed by Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, she refused to say whether the decision was correct or not.
In 2013, she criticized the Supreme Court’s ruling that legalized same-sex marriage, writing, “The constitutional right at issue–some form of freestanding dignity of recognition–has little connection to our constitutional text or history and leaves important questions unanswered…. The dignity of recognition, no doubt pressing for individuals wishing to be recognized, is better left to the political process.” She defended her position during the hearing, writing that her issue was with the application of the word “dignity.”
Rao is likely to be confirmed.