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U.S. Senate narrowly confirms Biden's progressive pick for Massachusetts prosecutor

·2 min read
FILE PHOTO: Rachael Rollins, U.S. President Joe Biden's nominee to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts, is seen in a handout photo

By Nate Raymond

BOSTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Wednesday narrowly confirmed a progressive district attorney branded by Republicans as soft on crime to become Massachusetts' top federal prosecutor, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.

The 51-50 vote to confirm Rachael Rollins followed fierce Republican opposition to her stances on criminal justice reform and marked the first time in more than four decades the Senate was forced to hold a roll-call vote on a U.S. attorney nominee.

She is part of a movement of "progressive prosecutors" that supports eliminating racial disparities in the justice system and rejects a traditional "tough on crime" culture that they say has led to the disproportionate incarceration of Black men.

Rollins, 50, took office in 2019 as the first Black woman elected to serve as the district attorney in Suffolk County, which covers Boston.

She campaigned on a promise to decline prosecution for some low-level crimes and was vocal about the need for police reform even before the nationwide protests prompted by the May 2020 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Democratic President Joe Biden nominated Rollins in July to join the U.S. Justice Department and head the U.S. Attorney's Office in Massachusetts, which gained prominence investigating the "Varsity Blues" college admissions scandal.

Republicans objected to a list of 15 crimes Rollins pledged not to prosecute from shoplifting to drug possession. Republican Senator Ted Cruz said she was "vocal and aggressive against prosecuting crime."

Supporters including Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have countered by citing research showing that declined prosecutions and Rollins' policies contributed to reductions in offenders facing a new criminal complaint.

Rollins said in a statement her policies helped improve trust in law enforcement and "the fairness and equity of the criminal legal system." She said she looked forward to bringing those "data-driven, evidenced-based approaches" to her new role.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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