The Senate confirmed President Donald Trump’s judicial nominee Neomi Rao Wednesday to the nation’s second highest court despite initial concerns raised by a handful of Republicans over her prior writing on sexual assault and her position on abortion.
In a 53-46 vote along party lines, the Senate approved Rao to replace Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) did not vote.
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During her confirmation hearing, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) grilled Rao, who is head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, on her views on date rape and gender equality. In an article she wrote during her time as an undergraduate at Yale, Rao said that if a woman “drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was part of her choice.”
Ernst, one of two Republican women on the Senate Judiciary Committee, criticized Rao at the time, saying the nominee’s writing gave “her pause.” Ernst had previously said she was raped in college.
But Ernst’s concerns were eased after Rao sent a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Senate Judiciary Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that expressed regret for her college writings.
In addition to Ernst, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), another member of the Judiciary Committee, voiced concerns about Rao’s views on abortion, which prompted a backlash from conservative groups. The Judicial Crisis Network said in response that it would spend $500,000 on an ad buy in Missouri to pressure Hawley to back Rao.
Both Ernst and Hawley supported advancing Rao’s nomination to the Senate floor and supported her final confirmation.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats voiced concern about the circumstances under which she would recuse herself from cases challenging Trump administration regulations.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) took to the Senate floor Tuesday to blast Rao’s nomination.
“Ms. Rao’s record shows she will continue to tilt our courts in favor of the powerful few and leave everyone else behind,” Warren said.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) praised Rao Wednesday, saying that in her confirmation hearing “she demonstrated a commitment to maintaining the public trust and upholding the rule of law.”