Neomi Rao, President Donald Trump’s nominee for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s now-vacant seat on a powerful appellate court in Washington, apologized Monday for commentary she wrote decades ago as a Yale University student suggesting women should change their behavior to avoid date rape.
“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.”
Last week, Rao faced fierce questioning from members of the committee during her confirmation hearing for the writings from her college years, which included a piece she wrote in 1994 for the Yale Herald titled “Shades of Gray.” In the piece, she responded to an alleged date rape incident on campus by writing: “It has always seemed self-evident to me that even if I drank a lot, I would still be responsible for my actions.”
She added: “A man who rapes a drunk girl should be prosecuted. At the same time, a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober.”
Responding to questions from members of the committee during the hearing, Rao emphasized that rape is a crime and no one should “blame the victim,” and that she hoped she has “matured” as a writer and a person.
In her letter, Rao wrote that “(as) a judicial nominee, issues regarding the legal standards for sexual crimes are not appropriate for me to discuss or address,” adding that if she were to address these issues today, “I would have more empathy and perspective.”
Rao wrote that after re-reading the articles, “I particularly regret the insensitivity demonstrated in my remarks on rape and sexual assault.”
“While responding to events and debates on campus, I failed to recognize the hurt that my words could cause a survivor of such crimes,” the letter read. “I recognize now the arguments I made might discourage a victim from coming forward or seeking help.”
Of those who criticized Rao’s past writings was Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who, having recently disclosed that she had been a victim of sexual assault, said they gave her “pause.”
Following the hearing, Ernst’s Republican colleagues involved with the process acknowledged her concerns and suggested that the nominee would need to pay a visit to the senator to allay concerns.
The two did meet, and Ernst told CNN last week that she feels “a lot better after visiting with her one-on-one.”
“She was a young woman in college, kind of trying to push back against other folks on that college campus – she’s very regretful for what she did,” she said, adding that although she feels “much better” after the meeting, it’s “(yet) to be seen” if she will vote for Rao.
CNN’s Ariane De Vogue, Elizabeth Landers, Tammy Kupperman and Manu Raju contributed to this report.