Biden Picks Suffolk County DA Rachael Rollins As Top Mass. Federal Prosecutor
President Joe Biden on Monday nominated Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins to serve as the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, a historic move that could reshape the U.S. Attorney's office and kick off a flurry of activity among elected officials and others who wish to succeed her.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Rollins could be poised to bring the same reform-minded approach to the U.S. attorney's office that has drawn praise from progressives and criticism from police unions.
She would become the first Black woman to serve as U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts and only the second woman to hold that title, following President Barack Obama appointee Carmen Ortiz.
Rollins, who has been publicly linked to the position for months, did not remark on the nomination Monday morning and her office could not be reached for immediate comment.
Biden announced Rollins as one of eight nominees to serve as U.S. attorneys.
"These individuals -- many of whom are historic firsts -- were chosen for their devotion to enforcing the law, their professionalism, their experience and credentials in this field, their dedication to pursuing equal justice for all, and their commitment to the independence of the Department of Justice," the White House said.
As part of its work to enforce federal laws, the U.S. attorney in recent years has also targeted political corruption and fraud. For instance, prosecutors successfully brought cases against former House Speaker Sal DiMasi, former Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, former Rep. David Nangle, and former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia.
A Northeastern University School of Law graduate, Rollins worked as an assistant U.S. attorney from 2007 to 2011 before holding counsel positions at the state Department of Transportation and Massachusetts Port Authority.
In 2018, Rollins topped a five-person Democratic primary for Suffolk DA with 39 percent of the vote, then took 80 percent of the vote in the general election.
She made major waves early in her tenure, outlining a "progressive prosecution" strategy for her office in March 2019 that called for pursuing diversion or dismissal in many nonviolent, low-level cases.
That move drew criticism from Gov. Charlie Baker's public safety chief, who told Rollins at the time that her prosecutorial policies "do not reflect the careful balance struck" in a 2018 criminal justice reform bill.
Rollins also called in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic for releasing some inmates from Massachusetts jails and prisons to reduce the risks of transmission, saying at the time that inmates were "essentially sitting in a petri dish."
"As Suffolk County District Attorney, Rachael Rollins has demonstrated what a difference a DA makes; from moving to dismiss thousands of cases tainted by Massachusetts' drug lab scandals to declining to prosecute several low-level offenses, she has prioritized racial justice and fairness in our legal system," said ACLU Massachusetts Executive Director Carol Rose. "The ACLU looks forward to working with her if she is confirmed as U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts."
Rose, whose organization does not endorse or oppose nominees, said she wants Gov. Baker to select a successor, interim DA "who will continue the work toward a legal system that is focused on transformation and healing -- not convictions and incarceration."
Baker, a Republican, would be responsible for selecting an interim Suffolk County district attorney to succeed Rollins until the 2022 election if she departs.
It would be a major decision for Baker, who has yet to announce if he will seek re-election in 2022. He could tap a member of his own party -- who did not have a candidate on the ballot last cycle -- but such a move could rankle legislative leaders and many Suffolk County voters.
The Boston Globe reported in May that Rollins would like to see Daniel Mulhern, her first assistant, succeed her as DA if she is confirmed as U.S. attorney.
In an April 15 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."
In 1992, Suffolk County District Attorney Newman Flanagan departed to lead a national association of district attorneys. Republican Gov. William Weld named former federal prosecutor Ralph Martin as acting Suffolk DA, and Martin, a Republican, went on to win four-year terms in 1994 and 1998.
The Biden administration has returned to the Massachusetts well on multiple occasions to fill federal jobs. Former Boston Mayor Martin Walsh is serving as U.S. labor secretary, former Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack took a job as deputy administrator at the Federal Highway Administration, and House Majority Leader Claire Cronin has been tapped as U.S. ambassador to Ireland.
Rollins's departure would require Boston voters to select a new district attorney in 2022, one year after they will choose a permanent mayor to serve a full term.
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey both praised the Biden administration for selecting Rollins, with Pressley calling her "my sister in service."
"She has fought to transform our legal system by prioritizing racial justice, decarceration & reimagining public safety in MA," Pressley tweeted.
Markey said he and fellow Sen. Elizabeth Warren "were proud to recommend" Rollins, adding that "we will work to make sure she is confirmed as quickly as possible."
Trump administration appointee Andrew Lelling spent more than three years as U.S. attorney until he resigned in February. Nathaniel Mendell has served on an acting basis since then.