Neomi Rao, President Donald Trump's nominee to replace Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, apologized Monday for her controversial writings from college about date-rape victims, which had come under scrutiny from at least one GOP senator.
In a letter Monday to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Rao condemned "sexual assault in all forms" as "abhorrent" and stressed that she "particularly regret[s] the insensitivity demonstrated in my remarks on rape and sexual assault."
She said that in college, she was "sheltered" and that her perspective on the issue evolved as she grew more mature and became a mother to two children.
"No woman or man should be subject to sexual violence, regardless of the clothes they wear or how much alcohol they consumed. Non-consensual sexual activity is never appropriate or excusable," Rao wrote to the committee. "Victims should not be blamed for the terrible things that have happened to them. As a society we should create an environment where survivors feel empowered and comfortable coming forward."
She added, "I am sorry for anything in my college writings to the contrary."
Rao faced criticism from senators during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week for some of her early writings, particularly on sexual assault, from her time as an undergraduate student at Yale University.
For instance, Rao wrote in a 1994 column that "It has always seemed self-evident to me that even if I drank a lot, I would still be responsible for my actions. 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."
Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, a new Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, who recently disclosed that she had been raped in college, told Rao that her writings "do give me pause" and that she was concerned about the message Rao's columns send to young women. At the time, Ernst said she was undecided on whether to support Rao's confirmation.
Still, Ernst said in an interview Monday evening that she met privately with Rao last Thursday, where the nominee again explained her early writings as the work of someone who lacked the perspective she has now. The columns were not "very nuanced," Ernst said.
"I would say, just sitting down with her one-on-one and just her expressing herself, the way she did and her thoughts, I feel a lot better about where I am now," Ernst said. "I haven't made that firm commitment yet [on her nomination], but I'm just glad to know where she stands, and it allayed a lot of fears."
Rao, who serves as the White House's regulatory czar, has been nominated for the vacancy on the D.C. Circuit, considered the second-most-powerful court in the nation and one that has often served as a pipeline for future Supreme Court justices.
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