Governor’s Council candidate would seek pro-choice, anti-racist judges

If Mara Dolan were interviewing a judicial nominee, she would want to know three things: whether the person supports abortion rights, they understand substance use disorders, and they are anti-racist.

“Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe versus Wade, it’s essential that everyone working within the criminal justice system and in our court system is 100 percent pro-choice, because we have to protect reproductive rights at absolutely every single level,” Dolan said on The Codcast this week.

Dolan, a public defender who has also worked in Democratic politics, is the only candidate challenging an incumbent governor’s councilor this year. She is running against Councilor Marilyn Devaney in District 3, which includes Dolan’s hometown of Concord and the surrounding west-of-Boston suburbs. Dolan argues that she would bring an important perspective to the council, which confirms judicial nominees, as a long-time public defender.

“The incumbent has been in for 23 years, and I don’t have a problem with that. But in those 23 years, she has not once done what I have done thousands of times, which is stand next to a defendant in a court of law as they face a judge,” Dolan said. “It is essential to the Governor’s Council that we have someone who’s working in our court system every day and understands the issues that we face there.

Devaney has described herself as the only full-time governor’s councilor and says, because she is not a lawyer, she does not have a conflict of interest appearing before judges she voted to confirm.

Asked what, if any, litmus test she would apply to nominees, Dolan said she has three questions she will ask every nominee, the first being whether they support abortion rights. “I will be absolutely certain that any nominee is 100 percent pro-choice before I vote yes,” Dolan said, noting that under state law anyone age 15 or under seeking an abortion without a parent’s consent must get judicial approval.

Pressed on whether she would vote against confirming a religious Catholic nominee who personally opposes abortion, Dolan clarified, “No, the question is whether they will uphold the law.”

The second issue Dolan flagged is making sure judges understand substance use disorders and recovery. Today, she said, offenders may get taken into custody for a probation violation if they are in recovery while on probation, then relapse and use drugs or alcohol. “It is expensive, it doesn’t work, and it makes recovery harder. So we’ve got to make sure that all of our judges and our parole board members respect the science of addiction and are prepared to work to support recovery,” Dolan said.To punish people for being in so much pain that they relapse is the absolute worst thing that we can do.”

Third, Dolan said, judges must recognize and commit to addressing racial disparities, with Black and Latino individuals overrepresented throughout the criminal justice system. We have to make sure that all nominees are anti-racist, that they’re going to be able to identify racism when they see it, and they’re going to take affirmative steps to stop it,” Dolan said. She said that will involve looking at nominees’ awareness of racism and their history of what they have done to combat racism.

Dolan also talks on the campaign trail about ensuring judges understand the science showing that young adults’ brains are not fully formed until they are 25, which can affect decision-making. She said the court system needs to give young adults “as much support and understanding and compassion as we can, which includes diverting youth out of the court system and not shaming them when they get into trouble. Particularly in Juvenile Court, she said, You really need to make sure that you give them the message that you understand that they are children. They’re not being held to the same standards as adults.”

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

The Governor’s Council is typically a low-profile body, but it has made headlines in recent years, primarily for infighting and name-calling among its members. There have been calls to abolish the council altogether.

Dolan disagrees. “The fastest, most effective way to improve the Governor’s Council is to elect the best people to serve,” she said.