President Trump's nominee to Justice Brett Kavanaugh's former seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is under fire. On Monday, South Asian activists, attorneys, and professors condemned Neomi Rao for her past remarks on sexual violence, gay marriage, minority students, and multiculturalism. In a public letter addressing the Senate Judiciary Committee — before whom Rao will have her confirmation hearing on Tuesday — the women implored the committee members to "thoroughly and carefully" assess Trump's pick.
"We firmly believe in the importance of a diverse federal judiciary, and it is not lost upon us that if confirmed, Neomi Rao would be the first South Asian American woman to sit on a federal appellate court," 54 South Asian human rights attorneys, law professors, and survivor advocates wrote in the letter released Monday.
"However, we are deeply alarmed by Neomi Rao’s record," they added, "particularly around gender rights, and we do not believe that she will bring independence and fairness to the federal bench."
The criticism comes several months after Trump nominated Rao in November 2018. Rao, who is the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, became the subject of a January BuzzFeed report, which revealed her controversial op-eds related to sexual violence — including date rape — while she attended Yale University in the early '90s.
"It has always seemed self-evident to me that even if I drank a lot, I would still be responsible for my actions," she wrote in one piece in 1994. "A man who rapes a drunk girl should be prosecuted."
"At the same time," Rao added, "a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober."
Although not South Asian herself, Michigan Democrat Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who is Palestinian American, boosted the letter on Twitter, saying that she was "uplifting the 54 South Asian women lawyers, law professors, and survivor advocates" in their opposition to Rao.
In their public condemnation of Trump's pick, the signatories highlighted Rao's track record on gender rights. "In 2017, Rao gutted an equal pay initiative that required employers to collect data on wages by sex, race, and ethnicity,'s claiming that it was 'unnecessarily burdensome,'" they wrote.
The attorneys, professors, and activists also pointed out that the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs had "vetted the Department of Education’s draft proposed rules that seek to undermine civil rights protections for sexual assault survivors in schools under Title IX."
Such a move disastrously impacted survivors' ability to report their experiences with sexual violence, according to the letter. Rao's critics also wrote that it put "assailants over survivors."
The letter's signatories also pointed to Rao's other previous op-eds, including this statement of hers in The Yale Herald from 1994: "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," Rao wrote that year.
It is that kind of rhetoric that should be cause for concern, according to the signatories. "We urge Senators to thoroughly and carefully vet and examine Neomi Rao’s record," they wrote, "and not fast-track her confirmation to a lifetime judicial appointment."