The Slatest

Trump’s Nominee to Replace Kavanaugh Criticized Over Comments Blaming Date Rape Victims for Drinking

Neomi Rao speaks at a Senate confirmation hearing.
Neomi Rao testifies during a Senate Judiciary confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday in Washington.
Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Senators on Tuesday pressed Neomi Rao, President Trump’s nominee to replace Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, over comments she made decades ago about date rape and the equal rights of women, forcing her to defend her stance on sexual assault months after her predecessor was accused of sexually assaulting a former classmate.

During her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Rao said she “cringed” to think about comments she made when she was younger. In 1994, she wrote in a Yale student publication about date rape:

It has always seemed self evident to me that even if I drank a lot, I would still be responsible for my actions. 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.

Republican Sen. Joni Ernst, who has recently said she was a victim of sexual assault in college, told Rao that her comments and other writings from the time “give me pause, not just from my personal experience, but regarding a message we are sending young women everywhere.”

Rao emphasized that “nobody should blame the victim” but stood by the advice about staying sober as a “common sense observation” to help women avoid the risk.

In other writings from that time, she observed that “trendy political movements have only recently added sexuality to the standard checklist of traits requiring tolerance” and complained that “homosexuals” wanted to “redefine marriage and parenthood.” In the hearing Tuesday, she dodged a question from Sen. Cory Booker about her beliefs regarding gay marriage, saying that “these personal views are ones I would put to the side.”

About feminism, she wrote that “just as women want to control their education and then choose their career, similarly, they must learn to understand and accept responsibility for their sexuality.” She also wrote that an anti-feminist writer “accurately describes the dangerous feminist idealism which teaches women that they are equal.”

On Tuesday, Rao distanced herself from that description of feminism. “I very much regret that statement,” Rao said. “I’m honestly not sure why I wrote that in college.”

Although Rao has never served on the bench, she has worked as a law professor and clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas before joining the Trump administration. As Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern wrote for Slate in 2017, Rao’s beliefs appear to have aligned with Thomas’ and likely define her vision for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, the White House office that oversees agency regulations, now under her leadership:

Rao has devoted her academic career to criticizing the administrative state—the web of agencies and committees that promulgate federal regulations. Her attacks on the government sit at the intersection of two quintessential Thomas principles: an aversion to regulations (especially labor and environmental rules) and a hostility toward limits on executive authority.

On Tuesday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein voiced concerns over Rao’s involvement in the administration’s efforts to reverse Obama-era environmental regulations as well as protections against wage discrimination.

As the Intercept reported Tuesday, her role at the office has also come under scrutiny because the OIRA has stalled a guidance policy on workplace sexual harassment for more than a year. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission delivered the guidelines—the work of a bipartisan task force and the first workplace guidance update since the 1990s—to OIRA in November 2017, according to the Intercept. The guidelines would clarify what the EEOC considers workplace harassment, but the policy has been buried while at OIRA.

According to the Washington Post, more than a dozen people in T-shirts that quoted Rao’s college writing on date rape lined up outside the committee room during the hearing to protest her nomination.