JEFFERSON CITY – Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley on Tuesday doubled down on his apprehension about voting for President Donald Trump's nominee to a high-profile appeals court, despite pushback from conservative groups.
Hawley listed his concerns in a letter to Neomi Rao, who Trump nominated to replace Brett Kavanaugh after he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hawley has said he's unsure about Rao's position on abortion, which Hawley opposes. In the letter, he included questions about her views on judicial activism and her past writings on individual choice.
Even after her nomination hearing earlier this month and a private meeting with her, "I continue to have questions about your judicial philosophy and approach to constitutional law," Hawley wrote.
Hawley is scheduled to meet with Rao again Wednesday before he and other Senate Judiciary Committee members vote on her nomination.
Conservatives groups are pushing Hawley to support her.
The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative advocacy group that backed Kavanaugh's nomination, on Monday announced plans to spend $500,000 on television, radio and digital ads in Missouri to sway Hawley to back Rao. Americans for Prosperity also is launching digital ads urging support for her.
"A full review of Neomi Rao's record will show a nominee who is fair, impartial, and will uphold the Constitution and not legislate from the bench," Americans for Prosperity Missouri State Director Jeremy Cady said in a Monday statement.
Rao is administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and she has never tried a case in state or federal court.
Hawley and others are relying on her past legal writings to glean insight about how she might rule as a judge.
Hawley cited an article by Rao in which she writes that Casey v. Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania's ruling against abortion restrictions "linked reproductive choices with the essential nature of the individual and emphasized the importance of the freedom to make such choices without compulsion from the state."
Hawley said he has questions about her analysis of that case.
In his letter to Rao, Hawley also criticized the legal principle of substantive due process as being used by Supreme Court justices to "strike down, among other things, state laws limiting abortion, and to justify judicial activism."
"Understanding that lower court judges are bound by precedent, I will not vote to confirm nominees whom I believe will expand substantive due process precedents like Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania," Hawley wrote to Rao.
Rao's past writings have also been used by liberal activists and Democrats as fodder to oppose her. A review by NARAL Pro-Choice America cited the same articles written by Rao that Hawley did, but the abortion-rights group described Rao as one of "Trump's anti-choice judicial nominees."
Rao later walked back language she used as a college student in writing about sexual assault, race and equal rights for women that was condemned by both Democrats and Republicans.