Senate confirms Neomi Rao to fill Kavanaugh's former seat

Vote split along party lines

By CNN'S DEVAN COLE CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.
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Neomi Rao, President Donald Trump's nominee to be U.S. circuit judge for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The Senate voted Wednesday to confirm Neomi Rao, a judicial nominee who faced intense opposition over her writings in college, to take now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's vacant seat on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

The vote was 53-46, with all Republicans supporting her nomination and all voting Democrats against confirming Rao.

Rao -- who serves as Trump's "czar" overseeing regulatory rollbacks -- faced fierce questioning not just for her work in the Trump administration but for commentary she wrote decades ago as a Yale University student suggesting women should change their behavior to avoid date rape. Even some Republicans expressed reservations about her nomination earlier in the process, and Rao apologized last month for her previous writing.

"Sexual assault in all forms, including date rape, is abhorrent. Responsibility for the rape is with the rapist. I believed that as a college student and continue to believe that today," she wrote in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee. "As a society, we should create an environment where survivors feel empowered and comfortable coming forward. I am sorry for anything in my college writings to the contrary."

Liberal groups highlighted Rao's writing in college as an example of why she's unqualified to serve.

"Neomi Rao is unfit to serve for a lifetime on the federal bench, but Senate Republicans strong-armed members of their own party to confirm her anyway," said Alliance for Justice President Nan Aron in a statement. "With this vote, they have proven that they will go to outrageous lengths to pack our courts with more of Trump's abhorrent judicial nominees."

Conservatives thanked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for leading Rao's confirmation process.

"Rao's experience and intellect make her uniquely qualified to fill Justice Kavanaugh's shoes on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals," said Judicial Crisis Network chief counsel and policy director Carrie Severino. "Rao will fairly apply the law and honor the Constitution; she'll be a phenomenal judge serving on one of our nation's highest courts."

Rao also had met one-on-one with several key undecided Republican senators. She was voted out of the Judiciary Committee along party lines late last month.

Rao is perhaps one of the highest-profile nominees to come before the new Congress, and some of her supporters have suggested she might someday be a nominee to the Supreme Court.

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