President Trump’s deregulatory boss is now seated on one of the most powerful courts in the nation, where she’ll have lifetime tenure to influence environmental policy and other issues.
Neomi Rao will be sworn in this afternoon to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a forum with broad authority to review regulations and federal agency decisions, among other things.
Rao is well-versed in the issues, having served as head of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and as an administrative law professor before that.
In those roles, she’s been vocal in her skepticism of what many conservatives consider an unrelenting expansion of power for federal agencies.
Environmental advocates are watching closely to see how Rao’s background affects her disposition from the bench. They are concerned she will be quick to overturn certain anti-pollution rules or broad regulatory programs that come before the court.
“We’ll be waiting to see what kind of judge she is,” Ben Driscoll, head of the judicial program at the League of Conservation Voters, said in a recent interview. “It’s going to be an interesting and scary time to see.”
Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Adler noted Rao’s confirmation does not change the D.C. Circuit’s balance; she’ll take the seat vacated by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who reviewed D.C. Circuit cases from a reliably conservative lens.
Joseph Goffman, an Obama-era EPA official and executive director of Harvard Law School’s Environment and Energy Law Program, pointed out that like her predecessor, Rao built her career among “extremely conservative members of the legal community centered around the Federalist Society.”
Another Kavanaugh-style judge on the powerful court is not good news for environmental litigants, Driscoll said.
“In terms of political ideology, she’s right there with him,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll expect any better outcomes with her on the bench.”