Senate votes to confirm Neomi Rao to appeals court

Senate votes to confirm Neomi Rao to appeals court
© Getty Images

Senate Republicans on Wednesday voted to confirm President TrumpDonald John TrumpA better VA, with mental health services, is essential for America's veterans Pelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Trump arrives in Japan to kick off 4-day state visit MORE's nominee to succeed Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughMurkowski celebrates birthday with electric scooter ride Graham urges Trump not to abandon infrastructure talks with Democrats 2020 Dems break political taboos by endorsing litmus tests MORE on an influential circuit court. 

Senators voted 53-46 on Neomi Rao's nomination to fill the seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit left vacant by Kavanaugh's ascension to the Supreme Court. 

No Democrats voted for Rao, who ran into controversy over writings on sexual assault and minorities. 

ADVERTISEMENT

"Today the Senate votes on the nomination of Neomi Rao to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court for life. She has minimal experience practicing law-no trials, no appeals, only one brief filed in U.S. court-and her writings on race, sexual assault, and other issues are deeply troubling," Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Democrats to House: Tamp down the impeachment talk Threat of impeachment takes oxygen out of 2019 agenda Senate Democrats request watchdog, Red Cross probe DHS detention facilities MORE (D-Ill.) wrote in a tweet ahead of the vote. 

Rao, who serves as Trump's regulatory czar, was grilled by Democrats and Republicans during her hearing about controversial college writings including a 1994 opinion piece for The Yale Herald in which she appeared to argue that women are partially to blame for sexual assault. 

Rao wrote at the time that if a woman "drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was a part of her choice."

But Democrats aren't able to block Trump's nominees on their own after they nixed the 60-vote filibuster for executive nominees and most judicial picks during the Obama administration. 

If they wanted to block Rao they would have needed to flip four Republicans, an uphill task in a caucus that has made confirming Trump's circuit court picks a top priority. 

Both Sens. Josh HawleyJoshua (Josh) David HawleyThe Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers seek 'time out' on facial recognition tech | DHS asks cybersecurity staff to volunteer for border help | Judge rules Qualcomm broke antitrust law | Bill calls for 5G national security strategy The Hill's Morning Report - Pelosi remains firm despite new impeachment push MORE (R-Mo.) and Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstSenate defense bill would make military sexual harassment standalone crime Congress, White House near deal on spending, debt limit Trump mulling visit to ethanol refinery later this month: report MORE (R-Iowa) raised concerns about Rao while her nomination was before the Judiciary Committee, but ultimately supported her.

Sens. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonGOP senator says Iran needs to 'stop acting like an outlaw' Sen. Tom Cotton: 'Memorial Day is our most sacred holiday' The Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan MORE (R-Ark.) and Tim ScottTimothy (Tim) Eugene ScottT.I., Charlamagne Tha God advocate for opportunity zones on Capitol Hill Senate confirms controversial 9th Circuit pick without blue slips Spicer defends Trump's White House correspondents dinner boycott MORE (R-S.C.) also reportedly had concerns about Rao but voted for her nomination on the Senate floor. Scott has previously help sink two of Trump's nominees during the previous Congress — when Republicans held a narrow 51-49 majority. 

Appeals courts, in particular, are a top priority for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump orders more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions What if 2020 election is disputed? Immigration bills move forward amid political upheaval MORE (R-Ky.) because the circuit courts hear thousands of cases every year — compared with the Supreme Court, which heard 69 cases during their previous term — and often have the final say for states within their jurisdiction.

Republicans have confirmed Trump's picks for the circuit courts at a record pace, with Rao being the fifth to receive a vote in the past two weeks. 

McConnell, speaking before the vote, called Rao “another of the president’s excellent choices to serve as a federal judge.”

“In testimony before our colleagues on the Judiciary Committee, she demonstrated a commitment to maintaining the public trust, and upholding the rule of law,” McConnell added.