Neomi Rao, a prominent Indian-American lawyer has been confirmed for a powerful federal judgeship by the US Senate after she came under scrutiny for her past writings on sexual assaults.
Rao, 45, was confirmed for the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most powerful benches in the country, by 53-46 votes on Wednesday in the Senate, which was basically on party lines.
She will replace controversial Brett Kavanaugh who endured a bitter confirmation battle last year after US President Donald Trump named him to the US Supreme Court.
Rao currently serves as the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) of the Office of Management and Budget. In this capacity she played a key role in regulatory reform.
Her confirmation came amidst stiff resistance from the Opposition Democratic lawmakers and even some Republicans. There was a nationwide campaign against Rao by rights groups for her previous position on sexual assault and minorities.
Rao faced fierce questioning not just for her work in the Trump administration but for commentary she wrote decades ago as a Yale University student suggesting women should change their behaviour to avoid date rape. Rao apologised last month for her previous writing.
The Republicans enjoy majority in the 100-member US Senate. After being sworn in, she would be the second Indian-American on this court, which is considered only next to the US Supreme Court.
“This nominee is yet another of the president’s excellent choices to serve as a federal judge,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said of Rao.
He said during her confirmation hearing, she “demonstrated a commitment to maintaining the public trust and upholding the rule of law.”
Meanwhile, opposition Democratic party said Rao did not deserve to be confirmed.
“A vote for Neomi Rao is a vote for a judge who blamed survivors of sexual assaults for being attacked. It is a vote for a judge who claimed sexual orientation is a ‘behaviour’ that can be changed,” said Democratic National Committee’s Women’s Media Director Elizabeth Renda and LGBTQ Media Director Lucas Acosta.
Prior to her service as OIRA Administrator, Rao was a professor of structural constitutional law, administrative law, and legislation and statutory interpretation at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University.
She founded the Law School’s Center for the Study of the Administrative State and focused her scholarship on the political and constitutional accountability of administrative agencies and the role of Congress.
She has served in all three branches of government including Associate Counsel and Special Assistant to President George W Bush. She also served as counsel to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, where she was responsible for judicial nominations and constitutional law issues.
In between government service, Rao practiced in the London office of Clifford Chance LLP, specialising in international law and commercial arbitration.