Democrats rallied to the defense of Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins on Thursday, but the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked on her nomination to become the next U.S. attorney for Massachusetts after Republicans challenged her approach to prosecuting some non-violent crimes.
The 11-11 vote in the Judiciary Committee means Senate Democrats will have to take an extra procedural vote to bring her nomination to the floor, potentially holding up her confirmation.
Sen. Dick Durbin, the chair of the committee, defended Rollins' record as a prosecutor and criticized Republicans for breaking precedent that typically shows deference to the White House and home-state senators on nominees for U.S. attorney. Durbin said not one of former President Donald Trump's nominees for U.S. Attorney had a roll call in committee, and only three recorded votes on nominees for federal prosecutor positions have been held since 1975, with the last in 1993.
"I acknowledge that while there is precedent it is rare. It is unusual, but it's also rare for the president to nominate a radical pro-criminal prosecutor for a U.S. attorney position," countered Sen. Tom Cotton, the Arkansas Republican leading the GOP opposition to Rollins' nomination.
Cotton and other Republicans raised Rollins' policy of declining to prosecute 15 low-level, non-violent crimes such as trespassing, drug possession and breaking and entering. While Democrats said Rollins' office has shown discretion and does prosecute drug and other crimes when appropriate, Republicans said it's not the role of prosecutor to decide what is and isn't a crime.
Sen. Chuck Grassley said Rollins' biggest mistake was publishing a list of crimes she did not want to prosecute instead of simply using the discretion that comes with her office to focus on more serious crimes.
Sens. Cory Booker, Diane Feinstein and Chris Coons drew attention to letters of support for Rollins' nomination that came from Democrats and Republicans in Massachusetts, including law enforcement leaders and former Govs. Deval Patrick and William Weld.