Women activists concerned over Neomi Rao’s candidacy

A group of 54 South Asian women, including professors, lawyers and human rights activists, have written a letter on Monday to (Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and its ranking Democrat, Senator Diane Feinstein, expressing concerns about Indian American Neomi Rao’s candidacy for the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“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,” the letter says, adding, “However, we are deeply alarmed by Neomi Rao’s record, particularly around gender rights, and we do not believe that she will bring independence and fairness to the federal bench.”

Ms. Rao, whose parents are from India, will, if confirmed, sit on what is considered the country’s second most powerful court. She will replace the vacancy created by Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial elevation to the U.S. Supreme Court last year.

“Rao’s policy decisions have led to the rollbacks of public protections relied upon by vulnerable communities, including women, survivors of sexual violence, and LGBTQ people,” the letter says.

Ms. Rao currently leads the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA, and is in charge of conducting cost benefit analyses for government regulations and deciding how to proceed with U.S. President Donald Trump’s agenda of deregulation.

‘Deeply troubling’

The letter referred to Ms. Rao undoing the “equal pay initiative”, an Obama-era rule that had not yet come into force, requiring employers to collect data on what they pay workers and workers’ race, ethnicity and gender. The letter also points to OIRA vetting a Department of Education proposed rule that would weaken civil rights protections to survivors of sexual assault and calls “deeply troubling, Ms. Rao considering a rule that would allow healthcare providers to deny medical care to LGBTQ individuals and women seeking reproductive healthcare.

The activists have provided evidence of Ms. Rao’s views that dates back to her days in college. “And if she drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was a part of her choice,” Ms. Rao wrote on consent issues in the Yale Herald in 1994, while a final year undergraduate at Yale University.

“This is victim-blaming and rape apologist language, and it has no place in our society, let alone the federal judiciary,” the letter said.

‘Not the role model’

An article that Ms. Rao wrote in 1994 for the Washington Times has also landed her in controversy now. She writes of multiculturalists, “Underneath their touchy-feely talk of tolerance, they seek to undermine American culture.” In that same piece, she also writes, “Martin Luther King Jr. dreamt that one day people would be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin. This dream has no meaning to the multiculturalists.”

“She is not the role model we need for our community and certainly not the one I want for my daughter,” Shiwali Patel, senior counsel at National Women’s Law Center, a non-profit organisation, said on a briefing call held by activists last Friday.

Ms. Rao’s confirmation hearing at the Senate will begin on Tuesday. The Hindu reached out to the White House on Monday for a comment on the issue.