neomi rao

Indian American Neomi Rao (center), President Donald Trump’s regulatory czar, is introduced during a Diwali ceremony in the Roosevelt Room of the White House Nov. 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump announced that he had nominated Rao to fill the seat vacated by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Several Indian American activists are opposing the nomination. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Several Indian American activists Feb. 1 expressed their concerns about Indian American Neomi Rao’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court, noting several decades of controversial writings on subjects ranging from date rape to multiculturalism.

Separately, a coalition of 54 South Asian American lawyers, law professors, and survivors of sexual violence sent a letter Feb. 4 to the Senate Judiciary Committee voicing their concerns about Rao’s nomination.

Rao, President Donald Trump’s regulatory czar at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget, was scheduled to undergo her Senate confirmation hearing Feb. 5. The DC Circuit Court is considered the second-most powerful court in the nation; Rao, who is Parsi, would fill the seat vacated by new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanagh, whose Senate hearings mesmerized the nation with a focus on sexual misconduct.

The Feb. 1 press briefing was organized by longtime Indian American activist Deepa Iyer, the former executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together who is now a senior fellow at Race Forward. “We believe in a diverse judiciary, but Rao’s record is deeply alarming to us,” said Iyer in her introductory remarks, noting that the appointment is to a lifetime judiciary position.

OIRA is believed to be at the heart of Trump’s agenda to overhaul government regulations.

Shiwali Patel, senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center in Washington, D.C., stated: “It is ironic that just months after the Kavanagh hearings, Rao, a nominee for the DC Circuit Court, has a deeply troubling record on sexual assault.”

Patel noted Rao’s 1994 op-ed “Shades of Grey” for the Yale Herald, in which the nominee purportedly stated that women who were drunk had only themselves to blame if they were sexually assaulted.

“Unless someone made her drinks undetectably strong or forced them down her throat, 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 her choice,” wrote Rao, as quoted by Patel.

Rao has also claimed that women who have casual sex often falsely accuse their partners of rape, according to Patel, who cited Rao’s comment: “Casual sex for women often leads to regret.”

Patel noted that victim blaming discourages sexual assault survivors from speaking up and asking for help, or contacting law enforcement.

OIRA has also vetted the Department of Education’s draft proposed rules that seek to undermine civil rights protections for sexual assault survivors in schools under Title IX, according to the letter sent by activists to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

According to civil rights organizations, these proposed rules would discourage reporting of sexual assault, prioritize assailants over survivors, and only consider the cost savings to schools without any consideration of the costs of sexual violence on survivors, noted the letter.

“She still holds her discriminatory views from college,” stated Patel, characterizing Rao as a “dangerous judge” whose appointment could have a profound impact on the lives of women and minorities. She noted that OIRA is in the process of finalizing regulations that would allow health care providers to deny medical care to LGBTQ patients, women seeking reproductive health care, and others based on the provider’s “conscientious objections.”

Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate at Public Citizen, a non-profit advocacy group, said, “Rao has trumpeted her actions to save corporations money by cutting costs, ignoring the benefits those regulations have on the environment, women, minorities, immigrants, and consumers,” adding, “She has been unwilling to acknowledge the very real benefits of regulations that protect the lives of ordinary Americans."

Narang noted that Rao rubber-stamped rollbacks on Obama-era clean car standards, essentially protecting the auto industry instead of consumers. “She has been blind to the benefits of regulation,” he said.

Indian American community activist Anirvan Chatterjee noted Rao’s disdain of multiculturalism. In a 1994 op-ed for the conservative newspaper, The Washington Times, Rao wrote: “The multiculturalists are not simply after political reform. Underneath their touchy-feely talk, they seek to undermine American culture.”

“This is a blatant attack on our community, our culture, and our religions. Rao is an embarrassment to the South Asian community,” stated Chatterjee, adding that Rao now tops Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai on the “Desi Wall of Shame” (https://shamefuldesi)

“Neomi has shown she’s not interested in the rights of immigrants and women of color,” said Iyer.

The Feb. 4 letter can be viewed here in its entirety: https://bit.ly/2I1Qb3I.

Rao is the daughter of Zerin Rao and Jehangir Narioshang Rao, both Parsi physicians from India; she was raised in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and graduated from Yale. Rao then attended the University of Chicago Law School. She is married to attorney Alan Lefkowitz and has two children. (See earlier India-West story here: https://bit.ly/2zdoAps)

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