President Donald Trump nominated Neomi Rao ’95 on Tuesday to fill the seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit left vacant by recently confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh ’87 LAW ’90.
The president announced his nomination of Rao, who is Indian-American, at a Nov. 13 Diwali celebration at the White House. Rao currently serves as the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, part of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. A graduate of the University of Chicago’s law school, Rao clerked for Clarence Thomas LAW ’74 and practiced public international law and arbitration in London after graduation. She then worked in the White House Counsel’s Office during the presidency of George W. Bush ’68 and served as a tenured professor at George Mason University’s law school.
“She was definitely someone who you knew was focused on being in the political world post-college,” said David Schamis ’95, who shared Rao’s residential college, Silliman.
As an undergraduate, Rao double majored in philosophy and ethics, politics and economics. She was also active in the Yale Political Union’s Party of the Right and was publisher and editor in chief of the Yale Free Press — an on-campus publication that describes itself as “somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun,” according to its website.
During Rao’s sophomore spring, she penned a letter to the editor of the News in response to a controversial cover story published in the Yale Daily News Magazine.
The story, titled “The Ladies of the Party of the Right,” featured a series of quotes from interviews with five of the Party’s female members, as well as one male member — all of whom were represented under pseudonyms. According to the feature, the Party had only six females at the time, out of 30 to 40 total members. In the feature, the women interviewed discussed their views toward feminism and gender differences and talked about POR’s internal climate when it came to sexism and gender roles.
Rao’s letter, published in February 1993 and titled “A POR Woman Responds,” took issue that when the article’s author initially approached her and other Party of the Right members about the story, she told them that the story was for a class assignment, not for publication. Rao also lamented that the author was “unwilling to hear and use any evidence which ran contrary to her preconceived notions” and clarified her perspective on what it means to be a woman in POR. The article’s author could not be reached for comment for this story.
“Women have to individually determine their role within the party as do all other members,” Rao wrote. “Men do not receive any special treatment, and women are not placed in any specific category. I joined the POR because I enjoy the intellectualism which I find in its members. We share certain ideals which can rarely be found elsewhere at Yale.”
Three of Rao’s peers at Yale told the News that they remember her as a thoughtful debater, a staunch conservative and a fun person to be around.
Rao’s first-year suitemate Ngozi Okorafor ’95 said that she is proud of her former suitemate for breaking barriers “as an Indian-American woman” with her professional accomplishments and recent nomination.
“We would spar politically and we were able to do so without being nasty and hurtful,” Okorafor said. “We were able to exchange ideas and she very much wanted to convince me of her ideas, and I wanted her to convince her of mine. It hasn’t changed much 23 years later.”
Colin McRae ’95, a fellow Silliman resident and Rao’s friend, recalled that she often talked politics during Saturday brunches in their residential college.
Though he added that he was at the opposite end of the political spectrum, McRae said he found politics “very easy to discuss” with her and found her arguments “very, very convincing.”
“She was often defending ideas that were against the mainstream,” McRae said. “And she was always very successful in doing so.”
Schamis, also a residential college friend, said that he also continues to hold political views that opposed Rao’s at the time. Still, he said he appreciated her intellectual and serious approach to debates during college.
He added that he believes Trump could not have chosen a better nominee from the right wing.
“I’m not somebody who often gives out compliments to Republicans in this day and age,” Schamis said. “[But] I think she’s a great choice and we’re lucky to have someone like her willing to serve this country.”
Rao was confirmed by the U.S. Senate to her current OIRA position on July 10, 2017.
Asha Prihar | firstname.lastname@example.org