President Donald Trump has interviewed Neomi Rao, administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, as a potential candidate to replace Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh on the federal appeals court bench in Washington, D.C., according to a media report.
Rao, 44, currently heads up the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within the Office of Management and Budget at the White House. She was confirmed to OIRA by the Senate on July 10, 2017. The New York Times reported that OIRA – a somewhat obscure agency created by former President Jimmy Carter’s administration to approve government data collections and determine whether agencies have sufficiently addressed problems during rule-making – is at the heart of Trump’s politically-charged agenda to overhaul government regulations.
If Rao, who had once clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is nominated to the D. C. Appeals court and confirmed by the Senate, she would join another Indian-American judge, Srikanth Srinivasan, in the same court.
Srinivasan, an appointee of President Barack Obama, was confirmed by the Senate in a 97-0 vote in 2013 and was widely reported to be a leading candidate for the Supreme Court if Hillary Clinton had won the presidency and a vacancy had occurred.
Rao’s current job also required Senate confirmation and she was confirmed by a vote of 54-41 in July 2017, with opposition coming from the Democrats. They had warned that Rao was being appointed to carry out Trump’s plans to eliminate more than 75 percent of the regulations instituted during the Obama administration under the guise of spurring economic growth.
Trump’s meeting with Rao was first reported by the online news site Axios. The DC Circuit Court is often referred to as the most powerful court in the nation, second only to the U.S. Supreme Court, because of its proximity to federal agencies.
Axios reported that – post interview – sources briefed on the meeting said Trump was not impressed by Rao. However, she may still be appointed to the court, as Trump has stated his intent to nominate a minority woman to fill the role, and a potential “feeder” to the Supreme Court. A source told Axios that Trump is reconsidering his initial impression of Rao.
“Rao’s advantages: She’s well respected at the OMB, knows regulatory law back to front, has the advantage of already being Senate-confirmed and is well-liked by several key Democratic senators,” opined the publication.
The Washington Times reported that former White House counsel Don McGahn recommended Rao to Trump for the open DC circuit court seat. The White House has declined to comment on the report, but an official told India Abroad “it is only to be expected that the president will be speaking to qualified people to fill this position now that there’s a vacancy on the D.C. court bench after the Senate confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh — now Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh.” The official had no further comment when asked specifically if Rao had been among potential candidates.
Axios, quoting unnamed sources, reported that Trump was interested in Rao so he could appoint a minority woman to Kavanaugh’s old job. But it added that while once source said Rao did not leave Trump with a good first impression, another said the president had not ruled her out.
Much of the reviews of the executive branch regulations, including that of the OIRA, is also a task the D.C. Circuit often addresses. As a nominee, Rao could expect some questioning by Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee. But if the Republicans hold the Senate in the mid-terms, her confirmation — like that of any other nominee — would be a formality.
As OIRA administrator, Rao is based in the White House. The agency is a statutory part of the Office of Management and Budget, which falls within the executive office of the president. Its mandate includes reviewing regulations from federal agencies and has the authority to reject rules that do not fall in line with the president’s goals as well as doing away with regulations already in place.
At George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, Rao founded and directed the Center for the Study of the Administrative State, created with pursuing the critical study of the constitutional and legal foundations of the administrative state. She was also a professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School and focused her research and teaching on constitutional and administrative law.
Rao has served in all three branches of the government. During the Bush administration, she was associate counsel to the president and then worked as counsel for nominations and constitutional law to Senate Judiciary Committee, followed by a clerkship with Thomas and Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.
Rao is the founding director of the Center for the Study of the Administrative State at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School. In an op-ed for The Washington Post last year, as the Senate was considering Rao’s confirmation to OIRA, GMU law professor Jonathan Adler termed Rao “a well-respected administrative law expert” who was a “superlative pick” for the post.
Adler noted that Rao has clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has served in the Bush administration, and as a staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee, effectively serving in all three branches of the federal government.
Rao is the daughter of Zerin Rao and Jehangir Narioshang Rao, both Parsi physicians from India; she was raised in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and graduated from Yale. Rao then attended the University of Chicago Law School. She is married to attorney Alan Lefkowitz and has two children.