Trump to nominate Michigan native Rao to replace Kavanaugh on powerful D.C. court

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Neomi Rao, Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, smiles as President Donald Trump announces his intention to nominate her to fill Brett Kavanaugh's seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, during a Diwali ceremonial lighting of the Diya in the  White House Tuesday.

Washington — President Donald Trump said Tuesday he intends to nominate Michigan native Neomi Rao to replace Brett Kavanaugh on the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. 

Trump made the announcement about selecting Rao during a White House event honoring Diwali, the Hindu “festival of lights.” 

“I won’t say today that I just nominated Neomi to be on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the seat of Justice Brett Kavanaugh,” Trump said to applause. 

"We were going to announce that tomorrow and I said, 'You know, here we are, Neomi, we’re never going to do better than this right?' I thought it was an appropriate place. So, we’re 24 hours early, but she’s going to be fantastic. Great person."

Rao, an Indian American raised in Metro Detroit by two physicians, currently serves as administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs within the White House Office of Management and Budget.

She has been Trump's regulatory czar, helping to oversee what his administration described in December 2017 as cutting 22 regulations for every newly introduced regulation.

Rao is on leave from her job as a professor at George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School, where she has studied and taught constitutional and administrative law.

Neomi Rao is administrator of the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

During her confirmation hearing last year, Rao said her parents left India in January 1972 and arrived in Detroit "in the middle of a snowstorm without winter jackets, but with their medical degrees, $16 and the optimism of the recently married."

"They always imparted by example the importance of integrity, perseverance, kindness and a commitment to service," Rao told senators in her prepared remarks.

Rao graduated from Detroit Country Day School, Yale University and the University of Chicago Law School.

A member of the Federalist Society, she clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. 

She worked on Capitol Hill as counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee before moving to the White House to serve as associate counsel and assistant to President George W. Bush from 2005-06. 

She also practiced public international law and arbitration at the firm Clifford Chance LLP in London.

Jonathan H. Adler, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, has known Rao since the early 1990s and called her "extremely well-qualified" for the post.

"I certainly think of it as really a tremendous and heartening choice, which is not something that can be said about all the choices that this president has made," Adler said. 

Rao is recognized as an administrative law scholar with experience in the legislative and executive branches, which would be valuable on the D.C. Circuit because it hears many administrative law cases and a disproportionate number of challenges to federal agencies, he said. 

"She’s also incredibly smart and has shown a degree of intellectual independence," Adler said.

While much of the coverage coverage of Rao focuses on her overseeing Trump's deregulation agenda, Adler highlighted reports that she also has played a role in disciplining agencies, "trying to make sure they play by the rules and don’t take short cuts."

"She cares about getting things right, and those are qualities we generally want in a judge," he said.