Pa. House Republicans still seeking Senate impeachment trial of Philly DA

The Senate voted to indefinitely postpone proceedings earlier this month, citing legal challenges

By: - January 26, 2023 3:18 pm
Pennsylvania Capitol Building. May 24, 2022. Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

Pennsylvania Capitol Building on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

With Senate impeachment proceedings against Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner postponed indefinitely, House Republicans announced plans to file an appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court — still seeking a trial for misbehavior in office.

Reps. Craig Williams, R-Delaware, and Tim Bonner, R-Mercer, said on Thursday that a Dec. 30 Commonwealth Court order left questions unanswered and announced that they are still pursuing a trial of the progressive Philadelphia Democrat who easily won re-election in 2021.

During a press conference on Thursday morning, Bonner said the court, which found the impeachment articles legally insufficient, “clearly misinterpreted the impeachment proceedings.” The lawmakers, who serve as the Republican House impeachment managers, argued that Krasner’s actions as a prosecutor warrant “misbehavior in office,” which is the legal standard to remove an elected official from their post.

“We are taking this appeal because we are firmly convinced the separation of powers dictates the Pennsylvania Senate [to] determine what facts constitute misbehavior in office, which is the failure to perform a positive ministerial duty or performance of a discretionary duty with an improper or corrupt motive,” Bonner said in a statement after the press conference. “We are also confident the facts set out in the articles of impeachment support a guilty finding for misbehavior in office, and any concern about invoking the rules of ethics in the articles is a preference for form over the substance of the misconduct.”

The House impeachment managers presented the articles of impeachment, which accuse Krasner of misbehavior in office and obstructing a legislative investigation, to the Senate in November on the final day of the most recently completed legislative session.

The House Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order, which was formed in June to investigate and review rising crime rates in the state’s largest city, has focused on Krasner’s approach to prosecuting crime in Philadelphia. In September, the GOP-controlled panel conducted a series of public hearings with live testimony on gun violence.

Krasner, who refused to respond to a subpoena issued by the GOP-controlled committee, has urged lawmakers to focus on a statewide review of gun violence and increased crime through a public process. He also accused legislative Republicans of using impeachment as a “political stunt” to attack his policies, arguing that lawmakers have not proven that his approach as a prosecutor has contributed to increased crime in Philadelphia.

In December, Krasner filed a lawsuit and asked the Commonwealth Court to stop the trial, arguing that the process is politically motivated, unlawful, and outside the General Assembly’s purview. He later called the Dec. 30 court order a “victory for all of us in Pennsylvania and across the United States who believe in and cherish popular democracy.”

But with an appeal from House Republicans expected by Thursday afternoon, the fight over whether impeachment proceedings occur will continue.

“Our position is that the House of Representatives and the state Senate have the sole authority, according to the Constitution, to determine what constitutes misbehavior in office,” Bonner said. “We also believe the court ruled without hearing all of the evidence that proves Krasner’s conduct was performed with improper or corrupt intent, which the Senate is constitutionally required to consider as part of the impeachment proceedings.”

Only two officials in Pennsylvania have faced removal from office through the impeachment process. The most recent occurred in 1994.

A two-thirds majority vote — at least 34 lawmakers — in the Senate is required to remove Krasner from office, meaning that some Democrats in the 50-member chamber would have to support the measure for it to succeed after what could be a lengthy and costly trial.

When the Senate voted to postpone the trial, a GOP spokesperson told reporters that the decision stemmed from the upper chamber “awaiting court analysis, allocating time for a possible appeal, and reviewing the uncertain status of the House of Representatives and their impeachment managers.” 

As of Thursday afternoon, neither chamber is expected to return to Harrisburg until late February, with the House failing to organize amid a dispute over operating rules since a new two-year legislative session began this month.

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