In Maryland’s history, only white men have served as attorney general, but Anthony Brown broke that barrier Tuesday to become the first Black man sworn in as the “people’s lawyer.”
The state’s highest ranking officials gathered to celebrate the historic moment. They crowded the House of Delegates chamber in Annapolis to standing-room only capacity.
“It’s not lost on me that I am the first African American to hold this office and to assume this awesome responsibility,” Brown, 61, of Prince George’s County, told the crowd.
He expanded on the significance later to news reporters.
“When you’re an African American and you’re elected to office, you have a dual role to ensure you are promoting and helping fulfill the expectations of Black and Brown people,” he added.
Tuesday’s swearing-in ceremony marked a homecoming for the Democratic former congressman, lieutenant governor, state delegate and retired colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. Brown recalled sitting in the back of the chamber as a newly elected delegate 24 years ago. Now Maryland’s attorney general, he outlined an expansive agenda for his next four years.
He wants more money and authority to raise salaries in the office and double the size of the unit that prosecutes organized crime to 24 attorneys. He wants to go after civil rights violators and investigate and prosecute police misconduct. In the House of Delegates chamber, Brown admitted to a “robust” budget request.
Behind him sat House Speaker Adrienne Jones of Baltimore County and Senate President Bill Ferguson of Baltimore, both Democrats, whose chambers will have a strong say over Brown’s budget.
“It’s getting a little hot in here,” Brown said, and the crowd broke into laughter.
Known as the “people’s lawyer,” the attorney general handles the legal business of state government, representing agencies, boards and commissions. Assistant attorneys general represent the state in the appeals courts. The General Assembly in 2021 tasked the office with investigating all deadly police shootings. The attorney general provides its findings to local state’s attorneys, who decide whether to charge an officer.
Brown called it a logical next step for lawmakers to expand the authority of the office to prosecute officers.
He has also promised to protect abortion rights in Maryland and said he will work to reduce gun violence. In recent years, the attorney general’s office has prosecuted more gang cases that were typically left to the counties. Brown has also spoken of reforming Maryland’s juvenile justice system in Maryland so fewer boys and girls are prosecuted for crimes in adult court.
“As I said, my agenda is ambitious,” he said Tuesday.
Brown told the reporters later he wants to bring the focus of equity and a steady hand to the office.
“You’re not going to see wholesale changes in personnel,” he said. “We’re going to continue to practice law in the way we were practicing it.”
A familiar face in Maryland politics, Brown served two terms as lieutenant governor under Martin O’Malley and represented Prince George’s in the House of Delegates. In 2014, he ran against Larry Hogan for governor and lost with about 47% of the vote; Hogan, a Republican, finished with 51%. On Tuesday, Hogan swore him in.
Brown has represented Maryland’s 4th Congressional District, which includes parts of Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties, in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2017. He won an easy victory in November with nearly 65% of the vote compared to Republican Michael Peroutka’s 35%.
Before his career in elected office, Brown served as a helicopter pilot in the U.S. Army from 1984-1989, then went into the U.S. Army Reserve Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He retired as a colonel in 2014.
“He’s got more titles than most European royalty,” outgoing Attorney General Brian Frosh told the crowd.
Frosh served two terms as attorney general before retiring this month. He told the crowd the titles show that Brown is “dedicated to public service” and “superbly qualified.”
Frosh, too, recognized the historic moment for an office that upheld discriminatory laws before and after the civil rights movement.
“We’ve overturned those unconstitutional opinions, but we have a long way to go,” Frosh said.
Brown’s historic victory came alongside that of Wes Moore, who won election to become the first Black governor of Maryland. The two men have known each other for 20 years.
“I grew to find somebody who I admire deeply and has truly been one of my guides and North Stars on this journey,” Moore said of his own run for office. “I couldn’t be more excited to live in a state where you’re my attorney general.”
Brown steps into office with two high profile cases pending before the courts. While he’s still coming up to speed on these cases, Brown said he does not anticipate reversing course.
The attorney general’s office has asked the courts for permission to release a 456-page investigation into a history of child sexual abuse within the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Some people named in the report, but not accused of abuse, successfully lobbied a judge to seal the proceedings until a decision is made.
In addition, the attorney general’s office has submitted its concerns about the process by which the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City overturned the conviction of Adnan Syed, subject of the hit podcast “Serial,” on murder, kidnapping, robbery and other charges. Maryland’s appeals courts have taken up the matter.