Neomi Rao will not protect rights of women of color

In a sea of predominantly white male judicial nominees, Neomi Rao, President TrumpDonald John TrumpJimmy Carter: 'I hope there's an age limit' on presidency White House fires DHS general counsel: report Trump to cap California trip with visit to the border MORE’s nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, stands out as a rare woman of color. However, Rao’s identity as a woman of color has not resulted in her willingness to further our needs. Her track record has shown that she refuses to champion the issues important to communities of color — women of color, in particular.

Although we champion a diverse judiciary that accurately reflects the demographics of our society, judicial nominees also must have qualifications beyond their identity — they must possess the skills, knowledge and values necessary to enforce equal justice under the law. Neomi Rao is not that nominee.

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Since her time in college, Rao has shown hostility toward the fundamental constitutional and civil rights of communities of color, women and LGBTQ people. During her Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Rao reaffirmed her dangerous ideologies and disregard for the essential rights of our communities. She lacks the qualifications to serve as a judge on any court, let alone a critical court that reviews many of the lawsuits brought against the federal government and is a frequent feeder to the Supreme Court.

In her early 20s, Rao wrote op-eds that used inflammatory language to discuss women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and survivors of sexual violence. Her writings perpetuate dangerous stereotypes about our communities and ultimately show that she always has vehemently opposed reproductive justice values, which center people’s right to bodily autonomy and the ability to make decisions about ourselves, our bodies and to parent or not, free from discrimination.

We’ve seen these views reflected in Rao’s actions throughout her career, including in her current position as the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). While acting chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Rao was involved in blocking a rule that would require salary transparency in an effort to stop pay discrimination based on sex, race and ethnicity. Under her watch at OIRA, the administration proposed significantly rolling back the Department of Education’s Title IX protections for survivors of sexual assault on campuses.

During her hearing, Rao stated that her op-ed position — “A good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober” — was “just a commonsense observation.” While Rao issued a letter after the hearing insisting that she was not blaming survivors, she signed off on the Title IX changes regarding campus sexual assaults. Rao’s statements at the hearing and her work at OIRA reflect a lack of understanding that the systems of power and control can perpetuate rape culture.

Disturbingly, Rao has shown that she believes racial oppression is a myth. She has spoken derisively about affirmative action, suggesting that standards are dropped for “a few minorities.” More specifically, she referred to affirmative action as the “anointed dragon of liberal excess,” and said race, generally, is a “hot, money-making issue.” As organizations that fight for reproductive justice, including racial justice, we find this language to be deeply offensive and grossly out of touch with the realities our communities face every day. Currently, Rao is working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to gut protections against housing discrimination based on race. 

Rao also has espoused dangerous views on LGBTQ rights. In talking about activists for racial justice, gender equity and LGBTQ rights, she wrote, “Underneath their touchy-feely talk of tolerance, they seek to undermine American culture. … For example, homosexuals want to redefine marriage and parenthood.” As reproductive justice advocates, we believe that centering our intersectional identities enhances our society, rather than undermines it.  

At OIRA, Rao finalized rules promulgated by the Department of Health and Human Services that would allow medical providers to use “religious objections” as a reason to refuse to treat a patient. This rule will harm LGBTQ patients and all patients seeking reproductive health care. This rule will disproportionately impact queer and transgender communities of color and create more barriers for individuals with limited English proficiency.

During her hearing, Rao refused to acknowledge that Roe v. Wade, Brown v. Board of Education, Griswold v. Connecticut, and Lawrence v. Texas — all landmark affirmations of our communities’ constitutional rights — were correctly decided. If she can’t expressly and unequivocally support our rights during her hearing, we in no way can expect her to enforce our rights while on the bench.

Our communities count on women of color in positions of power to ensure that our fundamental and civil rights are protected, yet Rao repeatedly has shown that she will not, and cannot, fulfill that role. It is incumbent upon our senators to do their job to protect our communities and the integrity the judiciary by refusing to confirm Neomi Rao.

Marcela Howell is founder and president of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda

Sung Yeon Choimorrow is executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.

Jessica González-Rojas is executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.