President Trump nominates Indian-American lawyer Neomi Rao to DC Circuit Court of Appeals

Pending Senate confirmation, Rao will join Indian-origin Judge Sri Srinivasan on influential federal appeals court

By Geeta Goindi

Washington, DC, November 15, 2018 – President Donald Trump has nominated Indian-American lawyer Neomi Rao to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Pending Senate confirmation, she will have a seat on what is regarded as the nation’s second-most powerful court, a stepping stone to the Supreme Court.

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The president chose a Diwali ‘diya’ lighting ceremony held Tuesday at the White House as “an appropriate place” to announce what became “the big story” of the day: his intent to nominate Rao, 45, to the influential federal appeals court, a lifetime appointment. Currently serving as administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) which is part of the White House Office of Management and Budget, she has been tapped by the president to fill the seat vacated by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

“She’s going to be fantastic – great person”, Trump professed at the ceremony. Rao responded with gratitude. “Thank you very much, Mr. President, for the confidence you’ve shown in me. I greatly appreciate it”, she said.

White House and Trump administration officials at the Diwali ‘diya’ lighting ceremony in the Roosevelt Room on Tuesday, November 13, 2018. Among the group are: Special Adviser to the President, Ivanka Trump (right); Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Neil Chatterjee (left); nominee to DC Circuit Court of Appeals Neomi Rao (second from left); Deputy White House Press Secretary Raj Shah (third from left); Acting Administrator of Drug Enforcement Uttam Dhillon (center-rear); and Chairman of the FCC Ajit Pai (fourth from right)

Trump’s announcement came as a surprise on a joyous occasion, a Diwali celebration, and it came a day earlier than scheduled.

“We were going to announce that tomorrow”, he told the gathering at the White House. “And I said, you know, here we are Neomi – we’re never going to do better than this. I thought it was an appropriate place”.

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If confirmed by the Senate which is controlled by Republicans, Rao will join eminent Indian-American judge Sri Srinivasan on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Srinivasan, an Obama appointee, was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in May 2013. The appeals court has a majority of Democratic-appointed judges and Rao’s confirmation will not change the ideological balance.

Judge Sri Srinivasan taking the oath of office in Washington, DC. He is the first Indian-American to be appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit which is considered the second-most powerful court in the country after the Supreme Court

Prior to joining the Trump administration, Rao was a law professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School of George Mason University, in Virginia, where she taught structural constitutional law, administrative law, legislation and statutory interpretation. She founded the Law School’s Center for the Study of the Administrative State and focused her scholarship on the political and constitutional accountability of administrative agencies and the role of Congress.

Earlier, she served in all three branches of government as: Associate Counsel and Special Assistant to President George W. Bush; counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee where she was responsible for judicial nominations and constitutional law issues; and as a clerk for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson III on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Rao has a B.A. from Yale University and J.D. from the University of Chicago.

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