Advisory committee chair defends process that selected Rachael Rollins

"The process wasn't the issue."

Former federal judge Nancy Gertner is defending the process which selected Rachael Rollins for the position of U.S. attorney. Yoon Byun/The Boston Globe

In the wake of revelations that former U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins tried to “sabotage” the election for Suffolk County district attorney last year, the Boston Globe Editorial Board called into question the “customary” process that resulted in Rollins’s appointment.

But in an interview on Boston Public Radio Monday, the chair of the advisory committee which recommended Rollins defended the process, arguing that it was anything but customary and that it was a marked improvement on how U.S. attorneys have been selected in the past.

Why Biden should change the selection process

In an opinion piece last week, the Boston Globe Editorial Board recommended that President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland divert from the norm of having a state’s U.S. senators recommend a new U.S. attorney, and instead choose one themselves, removing the senators from the process altogether.


The goal would be to restore public faith in federal law enforcement by distancing local politicians from the selection process, the board wrote. This would be meaningful in the wake of a scandal in which a local politician attempted to sway a local election.

“While there is no reason to believe the two senators who recommended Rollins knew or approved of her subsequent efforts to elect their ally, the political links are all far too close for comfort,” the board wrote.

The board recommended that Biden and Garland choose a new U.S. attorney that is “above ethical reproach, has no ideological leanings, and does not owe his or her selection to any local political figures.”

“A politicized justice system, in which prosecutors make investigatory or charging decisions based on politics, is no justice system at all,” the board wrote.

Why the process which selected Rollins wasn’t ‘customary’

But in her GBH interview Monday, former federal judge Nancy Gertner, who chaired Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey’s advisory committee which recommended Rollins and three other candidates, challenged the Globe board’s assumptions about the process.

Gertner argued that not only was the process Warren and Markey created for selecting Rollins not “customary” at all, but also that the senators were suitably distant from the selection process.


“Elizabeth Warren, from the moment she became a senator almost eight years ago, made it clear she didn’t want the customary practice,” she said.

Warren set up a bipartisan advisory committee to vet candidates for U.S. attorney, and many of the people on the committee had no previous connection to Warren or Markey, Gertner said. The committee recommended four potential candidates, and those four people were all then independently vetted by the White House and the FBI.

Rollins came out on top as a result of that process.

“The process wasn’t the issue. The old, customary way of selecting U.S. attorneys was ‘Who did you know?'” Gertner said.

The process was more ‘in-depth’ than normal

More on the Rollins scandal

Furthermore, Gertner said, Warren, Markey, and Biden diverted from the traditional process by pulling candidates from “more diverse sources of judges.” This necessitated that the vetting process be even more rigorous than normal, she said.

“When you go to the usual suspects for U.S. Attorney — firm lawyers, former prosecutors — you wind up with people with whom there would be no issue of ethics, no issue of temperament, because you’ve seen them in big firms or in the U.S. Attorney’s office,” she said.

Instead, the committee interviewed people for whom English wasn’t a first language, who had previously had trouble passing the bar exam, who didn’t have the money to attend the country’s top law schools, or who worked on social justice issues rather than for big firms, Gertner said.


“The process was much more in-depth because you’re not dealing with the usual suspects. And that’s a good thing,” she said. “You were dealing with people who were going to bring something new to the bench.”

Ultimately, Gertner said, she stands by the committee’s decision to recommend Rollins as one of four candidates based on the information they had at the time.


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