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Another Republican effort to slow down reform

Melvin B. Miller
Another Republican effort to slow down reform
“We want people to think Rollins is the problem, not that the prosecution system is flawed.”

Few of us are able to keep up with the dynamic pace of a fast-changing world. As a consequence, social change comes slowly and painfully. Few events illustrate this better than the reluctance of Republican senators to approve Rachael Rollins as President Biden’s choice for U.S. attorney for Massachusetts.

A number of the members of the president’s administration have to be approved by the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. Members of the cabinet and federal judges who serve for life require extensive review before such consent. However, while it is a major appointment to become a U.S. attorney, they are subordinates of the U.S. attorney general and normally do not provoke extensive opposition. Sen. Ed Markey points out that this is the first time that a roll call vote on a U.S. attorney nominee was required since 1975.

Some activists believe that Rollins was treated in this fashion because of her race, but that would be a simplistic explanation. She’s not the first Black U.S. attorney in Massachusetts. That distinction goes to Wayne Budd. The real problem is that Rollins supports a distinctive approach to law enforcement that will generate greater respect for the judicial system. She believes that excessive prosecution of misdemeanor offenses alienates citizens and fails to decrease criminal activity.

Suffolk County voters are certainly interested in changing prosecutorial style. When Rollins ran for district attorney in 2018, there were five candidates in the preliminary election, but she got 39% of the vote. Many thought that she would lose against a seasoned opponent in the general election, but Rollins won with 80% of the vote.

Conservatives anticipated that the failure to prosecute minor offenses would create an environment of felonious excesses. But so far that has not happened. According to reports, homicides in Boston have declined to 38 so far for the year, 15 less than the 53 for the same period last year. While crime and violence are declining in Boston, major cities across the country have been coping with climbing murder records.

One could reasonably speculate that the Rollins approach to criminal prosecution is working. People have higher regard for a judicial system that is not oppressive. In addition, she has begun the process of reviewing questionable convictions. She has also been harshly critical of police conduct below professional standards.

Clearly, as Rollins’ requirements become a national standard, the hold that prominent people hold over the police will begin to evaporate. There was evidence of this change in the Ahmaud Arbery case. The first prosecutor gave special treatment to those ultimately convicted of murdering Arbery rather than treating them as prospective defendants. In a democratic society, the police and criminal prosecutors must not be permitted to function like henchmen of the rich and powerful.

Rachael Rollins has been willing to put her professional career on the line in order to do the right thing. That is a form of political courage that is scary to Republican sycophants who seek the endorsement of their party leader who is unqualified and unworthy of high office.

No, this unseemly delay in Rollins’ endorsement since August was not because she is Black. Such a mistaken opinion would minimize the significance of her courage to step forward with the expectation of helping to reform the nation’s justice system so that it serves all Americans justly and honestly.