Republican Sen. Josh Hawley told reporters on Wednesday afternoon that he spoke with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas about controversial Trump judicial nominee Neomi Rao.
Hawley has created an uproar in the conservative judicial community in the last few days over his concerns with Rao, who is President Donald Trump’s pick to replace Brett Kavanaugh on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, a court that’s often a stepping stone to the Supreme Court.
A source familiar with Hawley’s thinking told CNN that he is mainly concerned with Rao’s judicial philosophy and the lack of a record on substantive due process. She’s never been a litigator on the subject, so he cannot tell how she would act, but her writings indicate she might be OK with substantive due process, according to the source.
On Wednesday before his meeting with Rao, Hawley expressed that he looked forward to talking with her about “her judicial philosophy, discussion about her legal views on substantive due process in particular.”
Hawley said he thinks it’s important that senators “ask tough questions. I was sent here to ask tough questions, to vet these nominees, and to do my job and that’s what I’m doing.”
He reiterated that he’s still undecided on Rao’s nomination. Hawley said several times that he’s been working with the White House saying that he’s been in “regular touch with them.” When asked specifically if he had spoken with the President about this, he dodged a direct answer, saying that he speaks with the President on “a regular basis” but didn’t want to characterize their conversations.
He insisted that a judge’s personal views on a specific issue did not matter, but said he cares about their judicial philosophy and how they approach a case.
“And so my view is, it is our job, it is my job as United States senator to probe those substantive views and say, How do you understand? What does the substantive due process mean to you? To look at the record that a judicial nominee has. In this case that’s mostly Ms. Rao’s writing and also some of her work in the administration,” Hawley added.
The senator listed a number of former Rao’s employers that he’s called to better understand her outlook, including speaking with Thomas. Rao clerked for Thomas, and Hawley himself clerked for Supreme Court Justice John Roberts.
Carrie Severino, a former Thomas clerk and chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group working in favor of Trump’s nominees lashed out against Hawley in a statement earlier in the week , and a strategist affiliated with the group said there was a plan to spend $500,000 in a paid ad campaign against him in Missouri.
Rao is expected to be voted on Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
CNN’s Ariane de Vogue contributed to this report.