Trump Judicial Nominee on Science: Climate Change? Yes. When Does Life Begin? Inappropriate to Say

By Melanie Arter | February 6, 2019 | 11:29am EST
D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judicial nominee Neomi Rao (Screenshot)

( – D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judicial nominee Neomi Rao told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that “there’s an overwhelming scientific consensus that there is climate change” and that “human activity does contribute to climate change.”

When questioned on her personal beliefs about when human life begins, however, she said it would be inappropriate to answer because some cases relating to the issue could come before the court.

“You’ve made it your mission to deregulate government. I see it as making it harder for government agencies to use their authority to protect our health, our safety, environment. If we had an administration that sometime actually cared to address climate change, based on your past record, it’s hard to see how you could give them a fair shot in court,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said.

“For example, you wrote in the 1990s that climate change is nothing more than a major environmental boogeyman and that the greenhouse effort is a controversial theory pushed by environmental groups. Do you still stand by those assertions?” he asked.



RAO: Those are statements from college as you said – few decades old - when I think some of these issues were more hotly debate, and no, I mean I think the science has become much more conclusive over time.

LEAHY: Conclusive in what way?

RAO: I think there--- my understanding is that there’ s an overwhelming scientific consensus that there is climate change.

LEAHY: Do you agree with the overwhelming majority of scientists that say that climate change is normally a irrefutable reality that’s been created by human activity?

RAO: I believe there’s also a lot of scientific evidence. My understanding is that human activity does contribute to climate change. Yes.

LEAHY: Contributes?

RAO: Well, I’m not a scientist, Senator Leahy.


Later in the hearing, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) questioned Rao about her “personal definition of life,” asking, “When does life begin in your personal opinion?”


RAO: Senator, that is a difficult question, and it’s one that’s subject of ongoing political disputes.

KENNEDY: I’m not asking legally. I’m just asking you personally.

RAO: I guess I’m not exactly sure how to answer that question. As a judicial nominee, I hesitate to comment

KENNEDY: Why don’t you just answer for me honestly. Have you thought about it?

RAO: I have thought about it, yes, but it’s the type of issue that is related to cases that could be pending before the court. If I’m confirmed and under the code of conduct, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on that.

KENNEDY: Let me suggest an answer to you. It doesn’t matter as a judge. You’re supposed to follow the law.

RAO: Well of course, senator. My personal views to the extent I have any are put to one side.

KENNEDY: And that’s the point. I’m trying to rush through this, but others went over. We have nominees come before us all the time, and they’re beat up for their past written opinions and their past law review articles and the past things they’ve said. I don’t want a nominee that’s never thought about the world. I’d prefer to have a nominee that has an intellect above a single cell organism, that doesn’t come in here as a blank slate. The issue is not, have you thought about the world. The issue is, were you willing to put aside your personal beliefs and follow the law? So are you willing to put aside your personal beliefs and follow the law?

RAO: Absolutely.

KENNEDY: Even if you disagree with the law?

RAO: Absolutely. That’s the job of a judge.

KENNEDY: Are you willing to rule in an abortion case in a way as dictated by the law even if it contradicts your personal opinion about when life begins?

RAO: Yes, of course.


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