Letter from 77 South Asian Women Civil and Human Rights Lawyers, Law Professors, and Survivor Advocates

February 4, 2019

Dear Chairman Graham and Ranking Member Feinstein:

 

We write to share our concerns with you and the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the confirmation of Neomi Rao to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

 

We are a group of 77 South Asian American women who are civil and human rights lawyers, law professors, and advocates of survivors of violence. We firmly believe in the importance of a diverse federal judiciary, and it is not lost upon us that if confirmed, Neomi Rao would be the first South Asian American woman to sit on a federal appellate court. However, we are deeply alarmed by Neomi Rao’s record, particularly around gender rights, and we do not believe that she will bring independence and fairness to the federal bench.

 

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. In 2017, Rao gutted an equal pay initiative that required employers to collect data on wages by sex, race, and ethnicity, claiming that it was “unnecessarily burdensome.” OIRA also vetted the Department of Education’s draft proposed rules that seek to undermine civil rights protections for sexual assault survivors in schools under Title IX. According to civil rights organizations, these proposed rules would discourage reporting of sexual assault, prioritize assailants over survivors, and only consider the cost savings to schools without any consideration of the costs of sexual violence on survivors. 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.” Rao’s proclivity to choose institutions and corporations over people is deeply troubling.

 

In addition, Rao has a long history of alarming viewpoints about sexual assault, multiculturalism, LGBTQ rights, affirmative action, and people with disabilities. Here are a few of them:

 

“Unless someone made her drinks undetectably strong or forced them down her throat, a woman, like a man, decides when and how much to drink. And if she drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was a part of her choice.” (Shades of Grey (Yale, 1994)             

 

“Just as women want to control their education and then choose their career, similarly, they must learn to understand and accept responsibility for their sexuality. The terminology of ‘date rape’ removes the burden of sexual ambiguity from the woman’s shoulders. The controversy has been painted in terms of ‘yes’ and ‘no’, reducing sex to something merely consensual.” (The Feminist Dilemma, 1993)

 

These writings are not merely inflammatory or controversial. This is victim-blaming and rape apologist language, and it has no place in our society, let alone the federal judiciary.

 

Similarly, Rao has expressed viewpoints on multiculturalism, LGBTQ rights, and affirmative action that are problematic. She has derided those working for diversity as “multiculturalists”  (“[U]nderneath their touchy-feely talk of tolerance, they seek to undermine American culture”), and diminished  the long-standing struggle for LGBTQ rights as part of “[t]rendy political movements.” More recently, in a 2009 law review article evaluating Justice Ginsberg’s equality jurisprudence, Rao wrote about affirmative action programs: “They confer benefits along the lines of race and use race as a proxy for disadvantage and inability to compete on an equal footing. This then perversely reinforces the historic associations between race and disadvantage.”  And in a 2013 law review article, Rao criticized the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor (which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act) arguing that politicians, rather than courts, should resolve such issues.

 

Given the significant role that she has played to roll back public protections while at OIRA, and her history of troubling viewpoints and writings, we are concerned that Neomi Rao will not bring an independent and impartial perspective to the federal judiciary. We urge Senators to thoroughly and carefully vet and examine Neomi Rao’s record, and not fast-track her confirmation to a lifetime judicial appointment.

 

Sincerely,

 

Nisha Agarwal, Senior Advisor, Mayor's Office (New York)*

Amna A. Akbar, Associate Professor, The Ohio State University, Moritz College of Law (Ohio)*

Urooj Arshad, Director, Advocates for Youth (Washington, DC)

Amanda Baran, Attorney (Virginia)

Anuradha Bhagwati, Former Executive Director, Service Women's Action Network (New York)

Navneet Bhalla, Executive Director, Manavi (New Jersey)

Shikha Bhatnagar, Executive Director, South Asian Network (California)*

Aparna Bhattacharyya, Executive Director, Raksha, Inc  (Georgia)

Zahra Billoo, Executive Director, Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) San Francisco

Bay Area (California)*

Natasha Chabria, Lawyer/Policy Advocate, National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda (Washington, DC)*

Sunu Chandy, Legal Director, National Women's Law Center (Washington, DC)*

Neena Chaudhry, General Counsel and Senior Adviser for Education, National Women’s Law

Center (Washington, DC) *

Rabia Chaudhry, Partner, Chaudhry & Anwer Immigration Law, LLC (Maryland)*

Nimra Chowdhry, State Legislative Fellow, Center for Reproductive Rights (New York)*

Veena Dubal, Associate Professor of Law, UC-Hastings (California)*

Shama Farooq, Clinical Instructor, Tulane Law School (Louisiana)*

Krittika Ghosh, Executive Director, Asian Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project

(Washington, DC)*

Neha Gill, Executive Director, Apna Ghar, Inc. (Illinois)*

Madhuri S. Grewal, Federal Immigration Policy Counsel, ACLU (Washington, DC)*

Priya Gupta, Professor of Law, Southwestern Law School (California)*

Sameera Hafiz, Policy Director, Immigrant Legal Resource Center (Washington, DC)*

Deepa Iyer, Senior Fellow, Race Forward (Maryland)*

Shivana Jorawar, Co-Director, Jahajee Sisters (New York)

Gurjot Kaur, Civil Rights Attorney, City of New York (New York)*

Valarie Kaur, Founder, The Revolutionary Love Project (California)*

Aminta Kilawan-Narine, Esq, Co-Founder, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus

(New York)

Aarti Kohli, Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus (California)*

Chavi Koneru, Attorney and Executive Director of North Carolina Asian Americans Together

(North Carolina)

Sonia Kotecha, Managing Director, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

(Maryland)*

Pooja Kothari, CEO, Boundless Awareness, LCC (New York)*

Manjusha Kulkarni, Executive Director, Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council (California)

Prerna P. Lal, Esq., Managing Attorney, Lal Legal (California)

Shobha L. Mahadev, Clinical Associate Professor of Law, Northwestern University (Illinois)*

Anjana Malhotra, Civil Rights Attorney (New York)*

Faizah Malik, Staff Attorney, Public Counsel (California)*

Kavita Mehra, Executive Director, Sakhi for South Asian Women (New York)

Neha Misra, Civil Rights Lawyer (Washington, DC)

Nadiah Mohajir, Founder & Executive Director, HEART Women & Girls (Illinois)

Seema Mohapatra, Associate Professor of Law, Indiana University - Robert H. McKinney

School of Law (Indiana)*

Soniya Munshi, Assistant Professor, CUNY (New York)*

Vinuta Naik, Staff Attorney and Clinical Instructor, East Bay Community Law Center (California)*

Jyoti Nanda, Binder Clinical Teaching Fellow, Youth & Justice Clinic Founder, UCLA School of Law (California)*

Smita Narula, Professor of Law, Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University (New York)*

Eesha Pandit, Managing Partner, Center for Advancing Innovative Policy (Texas)

Chitra Panjabi, Gender, Sexuality, and Reproductive Justice Activist (Illinois)

Camille Pannu, Director, Aoki Water Justice Clinic, UC Davis School of Law (California)*

Seema Patel, Clinical Director, East Bay Community Law Center (California)*

Sheetal Patel, Ph.D., Trauma Psychologist (Washington, DC)

Shiwali Patel, Senior Counsel, National Women's Law Center (Washington, DC)*

Sunita Patel, Assistant Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law (California)*

Sameera Qureshi, Director of Sexuality Education & Training, HEART Women & Girls         (Illinois)

Maya Raghu, Director of Workplace Equality, National Women's Law Center            (Washington,DC)*

Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

(New York)*

Darakshan Raja, Co-Director, Justice for Muslims Collective (Washington, DC)

Qudsia Raja, Policy Director, National Domestic Violence Hotline (Washington, DC)

Saira Rao, Co-Founder, In This Together Media (Colorado)

Uma Rao, President, Surge Reproductive Justice (Washington)

Seema Rupani, Staff Attorney and Clinical Supervisor, East Bay Community Law Center (California)*

Ramya Sekaran, National Women’s Law Center (Washington, DC)*

Hina Shah, Associate Professor of Law & Director, Women's Employment Rights Clinic, Golden Gate University (California)*

Jeena Shah, Associate Professor of Law, CUNY School of Law (New York)*

Paromita Shah, Associate Director, National Immigration Project (Washington DC)*

Ragini Shah, Clinical Professor, Suffolk University Law School (Massachusetts)*

Riya Saha Shah, Juvenile Law Center (Pennsylvania)*

Palak Sheth, Public Policy, Instagram (California)*

Jasmeet Kaur Sidhu, Human Rights Attorney (Washington, DC)

Anisha Singh, Director of Judicial Nominations, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (Washington, DC)*

Anita Sinha, Assistant Professor of Law, American University - Washington College of Law

(Washington, DC)*

Shirin Sinnar, Associate Professor, Stanford Law School (California)*

Lakshmi Sridaran, Director of National Policy and Advocacy, South Asian Americans Leading

Together (Maryland)*

Jayashri Srikantiah, Professor of Law & Director, Immigrants' Rights Clinic (California)*

Amita Swadhin, Founding Director, Mirror Memoirs (California)

Neera Tanden, President and CEO of Center for American Progress  (Washington, DC)*

Sharyn Tejani, Director, TIME'S UP Legal Defense Fund/National Women's Law Center

(Washington, DC)*

Subha Varadarajan, Civil Rights Lawyer (California)

Hema Viswanathan, Corporate Counsel, Sherwin Williams (Minnesota)*

Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia, Clinical Professor of Law, Penn State Law (Pennsylvania)*

 

Asterisked signatories list their organizations for identification purposes only