Editorial: Rachael Rollins is a model U.S. attorney appointment. That’s why the GOP wants to stop her

A woman clasps her hands under her chin.
Rachael Rollins prepares to take the oath as Suffolk County district attorney at the Roxbury Community College Media Arts Center in Boston on Jan. 2, 2019.
(Boston Globe / Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Boston is one of the few major cities in the U.S. in which violent crime dropped in 2021, and the decline was dramatic. The most startling statistic was the decrease in homicide, which fell by nearly a third.

These numbers are extremely inconvenient for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, who is trying to block the appointment of Rachael Rollins as U.S. attorney for Massachusetts. Rollins is currently the district attorney of Suffolk County, Mass., which is dominated by Boston and includes three smaller cities.

McConnell last week intoned against Rollins for being “soft on crime,” apparently because she has instructed her prosecutors to focus their attention on the county’s most dangerous and serious offenses. Too bad for McConnell that her approach may be showing extraordinarily positive results.


Too bad, too, for GOP Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who lumped Rollins in with other Democrats whose actions he claims have “resulted in a historic increase in murders and contributed to the crime wave.”

And too bad for GOP Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who went on a long rant against Rollins during her nomination hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee last month for not prosecuting crimes like trespassing and shoplifting — but failing to mention that in Suffolk County those offenses are referred for alternative resolutions that include drug and mental health treatment as well as restitution. Or that a recent major independent study on crime in Suffolk County found that diverting lower-level offenses from the criminal justice system reduces future involvement in crime. In other words, it makes us safer.

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Rollins has been among President Biden’s smartest appointments, and if her nomination is finally approved in the Senate she would become the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, handling cases involving national security, white-collar crime, public corruption, cybercrime, gang violence and civil rights violations. Cruz’s complaints about nonprosecution of shoplifting are a non sequitur.

So what’s really going on here?

One clue is the Senate Republicans’ treatment of two previous Biden Justice Department nominations earlier this year. As with Rollins, they tried to turn back the appointments of civil rights champions Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general and Kristen Clarke as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. In all three cases, the Judiciary Committee deadlocked in 11-11 party-line votes. Gupta and Clarke ultimately were confirmed on the Senate floor.

It’s worth noting that all three lawyers are women. Two are Black, one is of Indian descent. The careers of all three have focused on equal justice, free from racial or gender discrimination.

Elected Republicans continue to hitch their political wagons to the most reactionary segments of U.S. policing, which feel threatened by “defund” rhetoric. McConnell, Cotton, Cruz and others have followed their lead by making the specious assertion that Democrats have indeed stripped police of resources, when in fact, in almost all U.S. cities and counties, law enforcement funding continues to increase or at the very least hold steady.


In addition, Republicans fear the inroads that elected “progressive prosecutors” like Rollins have made with voters. And they cling to, yet completely misunderstand and misapply, the “broken windows theory” that emphasizes the role of order in public safety and often has been used inappropriately to justify “no tolerance” policies for even the most petty offenses.

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Biden’s nomination of Rollins, while hardly radical, represents a threat to the Republican narrative about Democrats and crime, as do Boston’s enviable crime stats.

So has Rollins really discovered the secret to driving down violent crime?

Maybe yes, maybe no. Crime has many causes, and the role of prosecutors, as opposed to a host of social, economic and other factors, is hard to pin down, especially in the short term. Crime rose this year and last in numerous jurisdictions with prosecutors of both the old-school and the progressive bent. The point is that when GOP senators claim that Rollins’ policies increase crime, they’re just making things up to justify blocking one of the nation’s most successful criminal justice leaders.

Biden has other U.S. attorney positions to fill as well, including in the Central District of California, which covers Los Angeles and six other counties. He should pick more people like Rollins: lawyers who are smart, tough, principled, innovative and effective. They will get Republican pushback. And if they stay the course, they will overcome it and we will all be better for it.