Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is working behind the scenes to boost the prospects of Neomi Rao, one of his former law clerks, to serve on a powerful federal appeals court in Washington — speaking privately with at least two Republican senators as she faces a contentious confirmation fight.
Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.) who publicly questioned how Rao would rule on issues such as abortion before supporting her in a key vote Thursday, disclosed this week that he had called Thomas. The justice has also phoned Sen. Tim Scott (S.C.), a sometimes deciding voice on controversial nominees.
“He called me and wanted just to share with me his positive experience and how smart she was,” Scott said in an interview Thursday, recalling the conversation he had with Thomas a couple of weeks ago.
Hawley is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which voted 12 to 10 on Thursday to recommend Rao to the full Senate. Scott is not on the panel.
Scott stressed that he was undecided on Rao’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, saying he would continue to study her record. President Trump nominated Rao in November to replace Brett M. Kavanaugh, now a Supreme Court justice.
“Her meeting with me was okay. Didn’t answer all my questions,” Scott said. “We’re moving in the right direction, but I’m going to have conversations with Hawley and other senators who’ve expressed concerns, compare notes, as well.”
Thomas, famously taciturn during oral arguments at the high court, has previously worked in private in support of other judicial nominees. In the 1990s, he intervened or offered to help several stalled African American judicial candidates, including those nominated by Democrats, according to several black judges interviewed by The Washington Post in 2004.