BOSTON — Rachael Rollins, who has pushed for progressive criminal justice reforms as the first woman of color to serve as a district attorney in Massachusetts, is being nominated by President Joe Biden to become the state’s top federal prosecutor.
“Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins is incredibly humbled by the great honor of being nominated by President Biden to be US Attorney for the District of Massachusetts,” Rollins’ office said in a statement Monday. “She remains focused on doing the hard work of keeping the residents of Suffolk County safe.”
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Rollins, who has led the Suffolk County district attorneys office since 2019, would become the first Black woman to serve as U.S. attorney for Massachusetts.
“District Attorney Rollins is a great choice for U.S. Attorney, and we were proud to recommend her to the Biden administration,” Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey said in a joint statement. “District Attorney Rollins is a national leader on transforming the criminal justice system and shifting away from an approach based on punishment and penalization to one that combats the root causes of injustice, whether it be poverty, substance use, or racial disparity. She has prosecutorial experience, and is dedicated and committed to advancing equal justice for all, and we are certain that she will be a tremendous U.S. Attorney. We will work to make sure she is confirmed as quickly as possible.”
Rollins would be just the second woman to head the state’s federal prosecutors’ office. Carmen Ortiz became the first woman and first Hispanic to serve as U.S. attorney for Massachusetts in 2009.
“What it has shown is that the Biden administration isn’t afraid of putting someone who has very strong opinions that often run counter to what has often been tradition in law enforcing. They can’t be surprised if in future years as the United States attorney she makes statements that criticize the way things are being done currently – and gets into fights with the establishment,” said Professor David Rossman of Boston University Law School.
It’s the out-front and hard-charging progressive prosecution approach Berkshire District Attorney Andrea Harrington believes is needed right now as the state’s top federal prosecutor.
“I have people in my community who are afraid to go to law enforcement, they are afraid that they are not necessarily going to be heard. We have a problem in western Mass. with rising white supremacy; people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, the Jewish community have been sounding the alarm for quite some time now,” Berkshire DA Harrington said.
If confirmed by the Senate, key issues to watch include immigration, drug charges and policing.
“The extent on what things will change depends on what Rachael Rollins brings to the office. She will have a lot less freedom to make unilateral decisions on who to prosecute and what police to implement than she did as district attorney,” Rossman said.
It would be up to Gov. Charlie Baker to appoint a replacement to fill Rollins’ role until her term ends in 2022. The ACLU of Massachusetts is calling on Gov. Baker to appoint someone with a similar prosecutorial approach to the office in Suffolk County.
“We would really hope Gov. Baker would appoint someone who brings that same approach to having a fairness and transparency to bringing a transformational approach to being district attorney and not returning to the same old ways of the past that really didn’t work,” said Carol Rose of the ACLU of Massachusetts.
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