Liberal Writers Made Same Sexual Assault Arguments as Neomi Rao

Pressed on 1994 sexual assault article, Rao says she's 'matured as thinker'

Neomi Rao / Getty Images

Senate Republicans pushed back against an attack by liberal activists on Neomi Rao's collegiate writings on sexual assault, pointing to articles in the pages of the New York Times and Washington Post that make similar arguments as Rao made at Yale.

Rao, tapped by President Donald Trump to replace Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, is having her nomination considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. She has been deemed "well qualified" for the seat by the American Bar Association, but will be pressed by committee members about a 1994 article she wrote at Yale in which she argued that "a good way to avoid potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober."

The article was dug up by the Alliance for Justice, a liberal advocacy group dedicated to blocking Rao's confirmation. It has called her writings "vile," "terrible," and "deeply troubling."

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The article was featured by NPR and CBS News in their coverage of Rao's confirmation hearing, but Senate Republicans say the argument Rao made nearly a quarter-century ago are not outside the mainstream.

They point to articles written this decade by liberal commentators such as the Washington Post‘s Ruth Marcus, who argued in 2013 that the "responsible advice" to give college-aged girls is to be careful about drinking too much.

"The responsible advice is the one that I've been trying to impart for years to my now-teenage daughters: When you drink (because, let's be serious, they're not waiting until 21), don't drink too much," Marcus wrote.

She was writing in defense of Emily Yoffe, who argued that same year in Slate, a liberal outlet, "We are failing to let women know that when they render themselves defenseless, terrible things can be done to them."

"Young women are getting a distorted message that their right to match men drink for drink is a feminist issue," Yoffe wrote. "The real feminist message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will attract the kinds of people who, shall we say, don't have your best interest at heart."

"That's not blaming the victim; that's trying to prevent more victims," Yoffe argued.

On the opinion page of the New York Times, University of Virginia law professor Anne Coughlin complained about the inability to advise women to be careful about drinking too much without being accused of blaming victims of rape.

"Over the years, I often have found myself wanting to point out to young women that if they get blind drunk they run a very serious risk of being raped," Coughlin wrote. "But I know that the advice will be misunderstood and misused."

"Rather than seeking to achieve gender equality by advising women that they are entitled to drink as much as men, we might consider condemning this behavior in both genders," she wrote.

And over at the Atlantic, Emily Matchar argued that "alcohol education is not rape apology."

"Educating women on the factors that make them vulnerable to assault is not victim-blaming," she wrote. "It is simply practical advice backed up by data."

This is similar to the argument Rao made two decades earlier as a student at Yale. Rao made clear that a drunk man who raped a woman should be prosecuted, but that a good way to avoid the situation entirely is to avoid over-drinking.

Rao was asked about the article at the start of the Tuesday morning hearing by Republican senator Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and said she has since "matured as a thinker, a writer, and a person."

She was later pressed on the issue by Democratic senator Kamala Harris (Calif.) and said being careful about her drinking was a lesson she was taught by her mother. Rao said, however, she no longer holds the same position on the issue that she did as a college student.

Republican senator Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.), the newest member of the judiciary committee, criticized the amount of attention paid to Rao's college writing, given her many achievements in the legal field.