10 Reasons Feminists are Wary of Neomi Rao

Donald Trump has nominated Neomi Rao, a current Administrator in the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and former law professor at George Mason law school, to fill now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s vacated seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. If appointed, she’ll occupy the most powerful and high-profile U.S. court in the country, absent the Supreme Court—and bring a distinctly anti-feminist perspective to her work shaping the future of the law.

Rao played a leading role in the successful campaign to rename the law school after Justice Antonin Scalia, who once infamously declared that women were not protected from discrimination in the Constitution. (All the more cause for an Equal Rights Amendment.) She’s an active member of the right-wing Federalist Society, which has been funneling the names of extreme conservatives to Donald Trump for appointment to the federal bench and landed two members—Neil Gorsuch and Kavanaugh—to the highest Court in the nation with his help. And she’s as qualified to be a judge as Trump is to be President: Rao has never tried a case in any court of law nor has she ever been a judge.

But believe it or not, that’s just the small stuff. 

Alliance for Justice, a progressive judicial advocacy group that monitors federal judicial appointments, recently released an in-depth report exploring Rao’s longtime opposition to women’s rights and civil rights.

Here are 10 lowlights from their findings—each of which should serve as a warning sign and a call to action for feminists across the country.

Protestors rallied in front of the Supreme Court in 2016 in support of abortion rights. Neomi Rao, Trump’s nominee to fill a powerful seat vacated by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, would be an opponent of women’s reproductive health care and the rights of survivors. (Victoria Pickering / Creative Commons)

#1: Rao has blamed sexual assault on survivors.

In a 1994 Yale Herald piece titled “Shades of Gray,” Rao blamed women for assault if they have consumed alcohol. “Unless someone made her drinks undetectably strong or forced them down her throat,” Rao wrote, “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.”

In another article, Rao questioned the questioned whether consent is necessary for sex. She argued that sexual assault and date rape “has been painted in terms of ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ reducing sex to something merely consensual” and that “casual sex for women often leads to regret and a profound loss of self-esteem,” which she claimed “can force women to run from their choices and actions.”

#2: Rao also denigrated the Violence Against Women Act.

At a 2014 Federalist Society event, Rao called VAWA an “unimportant” and “grandstanding” statute. (In actuality, research shows that VAWA has created a very effective, system-wide response to stalking, domestic abuse and sexual violence that has contributed toward a significant decrease of violence against women since its passage.)

#3: Rao supports weakening sexual harassment laws.

Under Rao’s leadership, OIRA signed off on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s efforts to roll back protections for survivors of sexual assault on college campuses. Rao has also obstructed new EEOC sexual harassment guidance for employers.

#4: Rao is scornful of women’s equality and activism.

Rao’s writings also reveal a contempt for the feminist movement. “In exchange for access into the working world and sexual freedom,” Rao claimed in a 1993 article that appeared in the Yale Free Press, “women have lost much of the previous caring and affection of men.”

On the subject of women’s rights organizing, Rao declared: “Women should be able to realize themselves as human beings without identifying themselves as a marginalized group. True liberation cannot come from coddling and support sessions. The real world will simply not wait for women to come out of therapy.”

#5: Rao disrupted efforts to expose and close the wage gap.

At OIRA, Rao halted a data-collection program designed to gather information on the pay disparity between genders as a step toward remedying it.    

#6: Rao opposes women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health care.

As head of OIRA, Rao has overseen or approved rollbacks of protections for women’s health care, including:

allowing employers to refuse to cover birth control by claiming religious or moral objections; overseeing a proposed domestic gag rule under which Title X healthcare providers would be prohibited from referring or supporting abortion care services for patients accessing family planning; overseeing a proposed rule that would interfere with women’s ability to receive insurance coverage for abortion care; allowing medical professionals to refuse to provide reproductive and contraceptive care based on “conscientious objections”; and engaging in a process to eliminate anti-discrimination protections under the Affordable Care Act for women who have terminated a pregnancy.

#7: Rao is also a vocal opponent of anti-discrimination and diversity efforts aimed at expanding racial justice…

In a 1994 Washington Times article titled “How the Diversity Game is Played,” Rao called campus diversity initiatives a “silly little game.” That might explain why, under her leadership, OIRA is working with Department of Housing and Urban Development to roll back protections against race-based housing discrimination. 

“Some people believe the multicultural movement exists only on the radical fringes, but it infects nearly every area of college life,” Rao claimed in her 1994 piece. “Underneath their touchy-feely talk of tolerance, they seek to undermine American culture.” As a self-described “Asian Indian” woman, Rao is the perfect apologist for Trump’s racist and sexist beliefs and policies.

#8: …and disability rights.

Rao has written to defend “dwarf-tossing,” a degrading practice in which participants throw little people for sport or entertainment. The organization Little People of America wrote to the Senate opposing Rao’s confirmation on the basis of her views on “dwarf-tossing.”

#9: …and LGBTQ rights…

Rao has vocally opposed marriage equality and has written critically about the Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor, which struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act. Under her leadership, OIRA is finalizing a rule that would allow health care providers to refuse care to LGBTQ patients on the basis of “conscientious objections.”

#10: Rao’s past is present—and that’s dangerous.

At her Senate Judiciary hearing last week, Rao tried to distance herself from her past writings and statements—but her testimony still showed her hostility to women’s rights, racial justice and LGBTQ rights, as well as opposition to government protections for consumers, workers and the environment; and support for expansive presidential power. 

“Rao harbors hostility toward people and communities who most rely on our courts to uphold their rights,” Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron stated after the hearing. “Rao’s views are antithetical to the interests of everyday Americans; she should not be confirmed to the D.C. Circuit.”


Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at cbaker@msmagazine.com or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.