Senate Democrats on Wednesday narrowly confirmed Rachael Rollins to be U.S. attorney for the district of Massachusetts, making her the first Black woman to become the state’s top federal law enforcement official.
The vote was so tight for Rollins that Vice President Kamala Harris had to come in to break a 50-50 tie. Every Republican voted against her confirmation.
It is extremely unusual for a U.S. attorney nominee to generate so much opposition. For some context, all 29 of President Joe Biden’s previously confirmed U.S. attorneys were confirmed in unanimous voice votes.
But every Republican lined up against Rollins. Why?
Rollins, who is currently the district attorney in Boston and a former federal prosecutor, is an outspoken proponent of criminal justice reforms. She is part of a new movement of “progressive prosecutors” who reject broad, tough-on-crime measures and instead welcome policies like declining to prosecute low-level crimes and ending the use of cash bail. These kinds of reforms, Rollins has argued, make the system more fair to poor and minority defendants while focusing taxpayer dollars on fighting serious offenses.
Republicans accused Rollins of being too soft on crime. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), for one, called her ”soft on crime, heavy on indulging far-left fads.” Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.), who was actively trying to sink Rollins’ nomination, claimed her policies “resulted in a historic increase in murders and contributed to the crime wave.”
But none of those claims are true about Rollins, 50, who is also the first woman ― and first Black woman ― to hold her district attorney post. Boston is one of the few major cities where violent crime significantly dropped in 2021. Murders in the city dropped by nearly a third this year, as of early October.
Rollins said in a Washington Post interview in October that the GOP’s criticisms were surreal.
“I have no problem being held accountable for things that I have done,” she said. “I just want to operate in a world, generally, where things are factual.”
Massachusetts Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey hailed Rollins’ confirmation as U.S. attorney.
“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,” they said in a joint statement. “We look forward to the renewed energy and innovative vision she will bring to the U.S. Attorney’s office.”