WASHINGTON, DC – Senators confirmed Neomi Rao on Wednesday to the seat on the D.C. Circuit appeals court formerly held by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, installing an ardent advocate of cutting government red tape to a court where the size and scope of the federal government dominates the docket.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit plays a unique role among the 14 federal appellate courts. Situated in the nation’s capital, many of its cases involve challenges to federal power – not just regulatory cases, but political ones as well. There are 11 seats on the D.C. Circuit, which is also considered the most prestigious of the federal courts. Four of the nation’s nine current Supreme Court justices previously served on that appeals court.
The Senate confirmed Judge Neomi Rao on Wednesday by a vote of 53-46. Every Republican voted for her. Every Democrat voted against, except for Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), who did not cast a vote either way.
This straight party-line vote seems an indictment of the times in which we live, given Judge Rao’s extraordinary resume. She received her undergraduate degree from Yale, then her law degree from the University of Chicago – a top-ten law school. She then served as a law clerk to a prominent judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, then for the iconic Justice Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court.
She then served in the other two branches of the U.S. government, as an associate White House counsel under President George W. Bush, and as a counsel with the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Rao then taught law as a tenured professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, where she founded a center to study the administrative state, and became a warrior for limiting government through abolishing excessive regulations.
Given all that, it was no surprise when President Donald Trump tapped Rao as the head of OIRA: the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. This is the part of the White House Office of Management and Budget that is responsible for examining and approving all new regulations – including repealing old regulations from previous administrations – for the entire federal government.
Rao has achieved major victories for conservative priorities as the administrator of OIRA during this presidency, covering a host of issues, including financial affairs, health care, labor, and environmental issues.
Her nomination to replace Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit following the latter’s elevation to the Supreme Court ran into unexpected turbulence. Much of this came from op-eds she wrote as a student at Yale, where she tackled controversial issues in a manner reminiscent of Rush Limbaugh.
The focus of that line of attack from Democrats concerned sexual assault. She wrote op-eds condemning date rape by criticizing young men who get so drunk that they behave like ogres, but then added that young women also should be proactive by ensuring that they do not get so inebriated at college parties that they compromise their ability to assert their rights and make good decisions.
Rao later apologized for the tone of those op-eds, saying that she wrote those pieces when coming out of her teenage years, and now as a mature woman and a mother she would discuss such delicate matters in a different fashion.
Going after decades-old material has been a consistent line of attack against President Trump’s nominees. Left-wing partisans have been going back to college writings – or even, in Kavanaugh’s case, back to high school yearbooks – trying to ruin lifelong careers based on a person’s choice of words when they were teenagers. Many people used terms to discuss controversial issues back then in a way that they never would today in the modern era of political correctness.
Unfortunately, some Republicans have been duped into joining these attacks, evidently forgetting that many outspoken conservatives made points in politically incorrect ways when they were still young people that they would never express in the same manner now.
Some leading conservatives asked hard questions about aspects of Rao’s judicial philosophy, though Federalist Society leaders and the close-knit Thomas clerk network rallied to her defense to give full assurances of her conservative bona fides, as did many national conservatives who have worked with her over the years.
Among Republicans, there was a consensus that when it comes to the D.C. Circuit’s docket, dominated by regulatory issues, that Rao should be nothing short of a star at delivering originalist and textualist decisions on those very complex issues.
Given that she is only 45 years old, Judge Rao could be handing down those court decisions for decades to come.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.