The Department of Justice has begun vetting Trump administration regulatory czar Neomi Rao to fill Brett Kavanaugh's former seat on the D.C. Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, the Washington Free Beacon has learned.
DOJ began contacting relevant people to vet Rao's nomination Thursday afternoon, according to an administration official with knowledge of the process. If all goes according to plan, President Donald Trump—whom Axios previously reported had interviewed and was leaning toward Rao—expects to officially nominate her to fill the position on the D.C. Circuit sometime next week.
Rao, 45, serves currently as the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, making her the "regulatory czar" of the Trump administration. From that position, she has been responsible for what Politico characterized as the "deconstruction of the administrative state." In her first year, Rao told the Free Beacon in an interview in May, OIRA has cut 22 regulations for every one it imposed, saving the taxpayers some $8 billion in fiscal year 2017 alone.
Prior to joining OIRA, Rao founded and was the first director of the Center for the Study of the Administrative State at George Mason University, as well as a law professor at the university's Antonin Scalia Law School. She also clerked for Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, whom Politico referred to as her political mentor.
Adam J. White, who succeeded Rao as director of CSAS, expressed strong support for Rao's nomination in a phone interview Thursday.
"She'd be an ideal pick for the D.C. Circuit," White told the Free Beacon. "I think she has an ideal judicial temperament: She's independent minded, she's deeply principled, and we can be confident that she will decide cases based on her independent judgement of what the written Constitution and laws require. She's deeply principled and professionally brave."
Adam Mossoff, one of Rao's colleagues at ASLS and director of the Center for the Protection of Intellectual Property, told the Free Beacon that he believed she would make an excellent pick for the D.C. Circuit.
"I have known Neomi for a decade—since I joined the faculty at Scalia Law in 2008—and she would make an excellent judge on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit," Mossoff said in an email. "She has consistently shown an academic temperament and collegiality among her professional colleagues, engaging me and others on deeply important issues in law and policy with both intellectual seriousness and warmth of character. She would clearly do the same as a judge, exhibiting an excellent judicial temperament in deciding cases impartially by hearing all sides of a dispute and ensuring a fundamental respect for the rights of the litigants before her."
Although a Republican-controlled Senate means Rao's nomination is likely to sail through confirmation, she will nonetheless attract attention because she will be filling the seat recently vacated by now Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh. This, combined with Rao's prominence in right-wing circles, may make her nomination a flashpoint for minority Senate Democrats.
The administration official who spoke to the Free Beacon said he expects a hearing on Rao's nomination before the Senate Judiciary Committee likely some time in mid-December.
OIRA did not respond to a request to confirm the information that Rao is being considered for a nomination. DOJ staff declined to comment.