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Why Activists and South Asian Women Oppose Neomi Rao’s Nomination

Neomi Rao’s views on sexual assault, race, LGBTQ rights, affirmative action, and disability rights are nothing short of alarming.

This article contains mentions of sexual assault and victim-blaming

On Tuesday, a group of South Asian women representing 65 desi women lawyers, law professors, and survivor advocates stood up in silent protest during attorney Neomi Rao’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Trump’s pick to fill Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s former seat on the U.S. court of appeals for the D.C. circuit wrote articles as an undergrad at Yale in which she victim-blamed survivors of sexual assault.

If she drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was a part of her choice,” Rao wrote in one piece. The women protesting Rao’s nomination penned a powerful letter addressing the Senate Judiciary Committee and helped shed light on her record stating that, “As the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Rao is the Trump Administration’s point person to deregulate public protections that benefit all Americans. Rao’s policy decisions have led to the rollbacks of public protections relied upon by vulnerable communities including women, survivors of sexual violence, and LGBTQ people.”

Image Courtesy of Deepa Iyer

“First, it’s important to understand that the DC Circuit Court is the second most powerful court in the country, second to the Supreme Court. More SCOTUS justices have come from the DC Circuit than any other appellate court,” explains civil rights lawyer, Senior Fellow at Race Forward, author of We Too Sing America and podcaster Deepa Iyer, “If confirmed, Rao will be weighing in on cases that have to do with policies that federal agencies implement. In her current role as head of a federal office that reviews and implements federal agency regulations, Rao has rolled back a range of public protections dealing with the environment and equal pay.”

During the hearing, Rao skirted questions about her stance on equality between men and women which she referred to in her writings as a “dangerous feminist ideal.” Iyer tells Wear Your Voice that Rao’s views on sexual assault, race, LGBTQ rights, affirmative action, and disability rights are nothing short of alarming.

Neomi Rao, President Donald Trump's nominee for a seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee for her confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Neomi Rao, President Donald Trump’s nominee for a seat on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee for her confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“Rao is also in the process of finalizing a new rule 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,”’ states Iyer.

Rao’s identity as a South Asian woman brings up questions about how representation in politics and on our courts doesn’t always mean that the rights of marginalized people are being protected.

“Representation matters, but what matters more are a person’s stances and opinions on issues such as equity and justice,” explains Iyer. “South Asians who are elected or appointed to positions of power and influence can’t get a free pass from our community if they implement and support policies that are antithetical to issues such as racial, economic, environmental, and gender justice. That’s why the Desi Wall of Shame catalogues South Asians at high levels of the Trump Administration who support policies that harm the lives, rights, and bodies of communities of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and women.”

Iyer along with Shiwali Patel, senior counsel for education at the National Women’s Law Center,  Kunoor Ojha of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Darakshan Raja, Founder and Co-Director of Justice for Muslims Collective, Qudsia Raja, Policy Director at National Domestic Violence Hotline, and Lakshmi Sridaran, Director of National Policy and Advocacy at South Asian Americans Leading Together, recognized why it was important for them as South Asian women to show up in their individual capacities* and stand in opposition against Rao.

“In the case of Neomi Rao — given that she is up for a federal appellate seat, is a law professor, and has expressed deeply problematic positions on sexual assault — I felt that it would be important for South Asian women who are also lawyers, law professors, and survivor advocates to speak up,” says Iyer. “It’s been inspiring to see so many South Asian women — from leaders at South Asian women’s organizations to advocates who support survivors to civil and immigrant rights lawyers — raise their voices around Rao’s confirmation.”

Iyer underscores the importance of protesting Rao’s confirmation by contacting your local Senator, spreading the word online with #RejectRao, and by writing op-eds in your local paper.


* The activists and advocates present during the hearing were there to represent themselves and the 65 desi women lawyers, law professors, and survivor advocates who signed the letter opposing Rao.


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Lara Witt is an award-winning feminist writer who primarily writes about feminism, racism, pop-culture, mental health, and politics. Witt received her BA in Journalism from Temple University and interned for Philadelphia CityPaper’s arts and entertainment section and the Philadelphia Daily News covering local news, court stories, and crime. Following her graduation, she became increasingly committed to writing about gender, race, and queer identity by using Black and brown feminist theory to analyze current news and politics. Witt freelanced for national and local publications, which led to her working with Wear Your Voice Magazine eventually becoming their EIC and rebranding the site to focus primarily on using the analytical framework of Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality. Witt’s goal is to provide platforms for marginalized voices with a focus on having other Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) writers tell their own stories and explore their own narratives. Witt has spoken at local Philadelphia events, such as the March to End Rape Culture (2017) and curated a yearly series of events called The Electric Lady Series. These events highlight women of color in Philadelphia by exploring gender, rape culture, entrepreneurship, art, self-care, sex, and culture.

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