You’ll be surprised to learn Democrats and liberal activists are seeking to undermine Neomi Rao— nominated to replace Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit—by dredging up op-eds she wrote as an undergraduate at Yale University. This tactic should be swiftly discredited in Rao’s case, for two clear reasons.
First, it is silly to suggest that reasonably mainstream thoughts a 45-year-old expressed in her early twenties are at all indicative of how she will behave as a federal judge, especially after Rao spent two subsequent decades building the kind of respectable career that earned her a “well qualified” rating from the American Bar Association. Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Rao admitted some of the resurfaced writings made her “cringe” but that she’s “matured as a thinker, a writer and a person.” That’s generally an accepted part of the aging process.
Daniel Goldberg, the legal director at the Alliance for Justice, argued in NPR that Rao “has not evolved.”
“She is the same person who wrote harsh, narrow-minded things in her 20s, and now as she’s being nominated to the nation’s second most powerful court, those views are even more dangerous and will have even more of an impact on so many people around our country,” said Goldberg.
If that’s indeed the case, clearly her opponents should have no trouble proving as much without stretching all the way back to the mid-1990s. It speaks volumes that they are.
Second, there really isn’t much for Rao cringe at anyway. The “inflammatory” content in question was largely resurfaced in a BuzzFeed report published mid-January. The excerpts (most of which are from her time at Yale, although some are from shortly after she graduated in 1995) are so mild that if confronted with them, anyone to the right of your average ThinkProgress reader would likely be left scratching her head, lost for reason to be offended.
It would be a waste of time to go through the many unearthed quotes point-by-point, but anyone at all concerned should read the full BuzzFeed story, and even the writings in question (which are mostly smart and interesting). Here’s an extended and representative sampling of the quotes flagged by BuzzFeed. Bear in mind that Rao, who is Indian-American, was reflecting from the perspective of a female minority.
In a July 1994 piece for the Washington Times denouncing ‘multiculturalists’ on campus Rao wrote that, ‘Underneath their touchy-feely talk of tolerance, they seek to undermine American culture.’
‘They argue that culture, society and politics have been defined — and presumably defiled — by white, male heterosexuals hostile to their way of life. For example, homosexuals want to redefine marriage and parenthood; feminists in women’s studies programs want to replace so-called male rationality with more sensitive responses common to womyn. It may be kinder and gentler, but can you build a bridge with it?’ she wrote.
In the same piece, she used language that became a focus in the ultimately unsuccessful nomination of Ryan Bounds to a seat on the 9th Circuit. Like Bounds did in a piece he wrote as an undergraduate student at Stanford University in 1995, Rao cited a racial slur that she accused others of using.
‘Those who reject their assigned categories are called names: So-called conforming blacks are called ‘oreos’ by members of their own community, conservatives become ‘fascists.’ Preaching tolerance, multiculturalists seldom practice it,’ Rao wrote…
In a 1996 piece in the Weekly Standard critical of the recent work of two black scholars, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Cornel West, Rao wrote that the two men ‘position themselves above the corporate hype. Race may be a hot, money-making issue, but even West seems to realize that it can be talked to death.’
In a November 1994 column for the Yale Herald about a rift between a campus LGBT organization and a new group formed by conservative gay students, Rao wrote that, ‘Trendy political movements have only recently added sexuality to the standard checklist of traits requiring tolerance.’
It should also be noted that, in their full contexts, all of these quotes came as part of thoughtful, and well-constructed arguments, rather than the unhinged polemics of a right-wing extremist. Rao used the “Oreo” line, for instance, in an article reflecting on why multiculturalists consider her a “traitor” for being a minority with a divergent outlook on the salience of race and sex.
“Martin Luther King Jr. dreamt that one day people would be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin,” she wrote just one sentence earlier. “This dream has no meaning to the multiculturalists, who separate and classify everyone according to race, gender and sexual orientation.”
The excerpts generating the most controversy involve Rao’s thoughts on the intersection of alcohol consumption and sexual assault, including this utterly shocking bit of advice: “A good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober.”
If a woman “drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was part of her choice,” Rao wrote in the same article. “Implying that a drunk woman has no control of her actions, but that a drunk man does strips women of all moral responsibility.”
While that point may be taboo among progressive feminists, it remains manifestly obvious and perfectly reasonable to most of the rest of us, so long as it isn’t part of an argument retroactively blaming female victims for the actions of their date rapist. Revisiting Rao’s full article demonstrates that certainly was not the case.
Indeed, Rao’s advice for women hoping to avoid date rape has been circulated without its important preceding sentence. In full context, she wrote: “A man who rapes a drunk girl should be prosecuted. At the same time, a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober.” The words in bold have curiously been left out of recent reports.
The article, published by the Yale Herald in 1994, when Rao was 21, made the case that “battles over date rape reinforce the antagonistic gender stereotypes that justified the old systems of oppression.” It was firmly pro-woman. (In her Senate hearing on Tuesday, Rao added, “I certainly regret any implication of blaming the victim.”)
Given that Rao’s writings in the early-to-mid ’90s, provocative as they may have been, hardly fell outside the boundaries of mainstream thought, they needn’t be considered by the Senate in the first place. They are entirely irrelevant to her qualifications for the judgeship.
But if the left insists on relitigating her work as a college student, Rao’s writing is perfectly defensible as the reflections of a young female minority expressing her conservative values. Unfortunately, as Rao noted in 1994, that remains unacceptable to much of the left.