Rollins confirmed as US Attorney; Harris breaks tie vote
Senate Republicans call her 'radical, left-wing district attorney'
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
WITH A PARTY-LINE VOTE that had to be broken by Vice President Kamala Harris, the US Senate on Wednesday confirmed Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins as the new top federal prosecutor for Massachusetts.
Nominated for the US attorney post by President Joe Biden in July, Rollins became the subject of a non-traditional confirmation process with Republicans, led by Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, holding up her nomination in the Judiciary Committee and forcing Democrats to take what US Sen. Ed Markey said would be the first roll call vote on a US attorney nominee since 1975.
Rollins will be just the second woman and the first Black woman to serve as US attorney for Massachusetts and her confirmation could mean additional turnover in the Boston-area political ranks. Gov. Charlie Baker now must appoint a new Suffolk County DA to serve for roughly a year and the seat will be on the November 2022 ballot.
“Every policy and initiative that I have put in place as Suffolk County District Attorney has been designed to improve the safety and wellbeing of the communities I serve, to improve the public’s trust in law enforcement and our courts, and to improve the fairness and equity of the criminal legal system,” she said. “I look forward to bringing these data-driven, evidenced-based approaches and a heightened emphasis on culturally competent, trauma-informed victim services to the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.”
Baker spokesman Terry MacCormack said the governor congratulates Rollins on her confirmation and looks forward to continuing to work with her. “The governor will make an appointment soon from a pool of qualified applicants to serve as district attorney in Suffolk County,” MacCormack said.
Before being elected district attorney, Rollins worked in the federal justice system as an assistant US attorney from 2007 to 2011 before taking on general counsel positions at the state Department of Transportation and Massachusetts Port Authority.
In 2018, the reform-minded Rollins came out on top of a five-person Democratic primary for Suffolk DA with 39 percent of the vote, then captured 80 percent of the vote in the general election. Her early tenure was marked by controversy around her policy that made it the default position of her office to decline to prosecute 15 non-violent crimes, including misdemeanor trespassing, drug possession, making threats, and breaking and entering.
The Baker administration said at the time that the policies Rollins detailed in a memo “if implemented as proposed, put at risk the Commonwealth’s ongoing efforts to combat the ongoing crisis of the opioid epidemic and substantially restrict the government’s ability to protect victims threatened with serious crimes.”
The 65-page March 2019 policy memo was seized upon by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on Wednesday to paint Rollins as a “lawless so-called prosecutor” and to rally opposition to her confirmation.
“Many Americans probably never heard of Rachael Rollins, but they are becoming very familiar with the kind of lawlessness and dangerous crime that radical left-wing district attorneys like her have generated under their watch,” Cruz said during a 20-minute speech against Rollins’ confirmation that referenced national crime statistics but none specific to Suffolk County.
Warren said the district attorney’s office under Rollins prosecuted more drug trafficking cases than her predecessor over a similar time frame and that homicides in Suffolk County reached a 20-year low in the months after Rollins took office in 2019.
“Rollins has demonstrated that progressive policies can be effective in cutting serious crimes, which seems to frustrate her opponents,” Warren said last week.
After the Senate’s vote Wednesday afternoon, Warren and Markey said in a joint statement: “D.A. Rollins has devoted her career to transforming the criminal justice system so that it actually reduces crime and provides equal justice for all. In this new role, we have every confidence that she will continue her partnerships with law enforcement, community advocates, and other key members of the legal community to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all of the people of the Commonwealth, and we look forward to the renewed energy and innovative vision she will bring to the US Attorney’s office.”
Rollins’ confirmation means that Baker, a Republican, now will get to appoint a new Suffolk County district attorney to serve out the last roughly one year of Rollins’ initial term. In an April tweet, Rollins said, “FYI, when DA’s leave, at least all the men that did before I was elected, they recommend (tell) the Governor who should replace them.”
The Boston Globe reported months ago that Rollins wanted to see Daniel Mulhern, her first assistant, succeed her as DA if she were confirmed. But the Dorchester Reporter’s Gin Dumcius said Wednesday that Mulhern “is leaving/has left the DA’s office.”In 2018, when former Suffolk DA Dan Conley resigned to join the legal firm of Mintz Levin and its lobbying arm ML Strategies, Baker tapped a 24-year veteran of the office, John Pappas, to serve out the remaining few months of Conley’s term. Conley praised Baker’s choice of Pappas as “outstanding.”
Suffolk County has already gone through a game of political musical chairs in the last year. Winthrop was home to the House speaker of more than a decade, but Robert DeLeo gave up that influential position late last December. Marty Walsh resigned as Boston mayor to become US labor secretary earlier this year, which led to two new administrations at City Hall and a significant reshuffling of the Boston City Council. Joe Boncore, who represented parts of three Suffolk County cities in the state Senate, resigned to take a new job as the head of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council and his successor will be chosen next week.