A Pennsylvania court found that the commonwealth’s GOP-controlled legislature supplied no “constitutionally sound” reason to proceed with impeachment against Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner (D).
One of the most visible figures in a wave of progressive prosecutors elected on a criminal justice reform platform, Krasner faced opposition late last year amid rising murder rates in the City of Brotherly Love. Pennsylvania lawmakers found him in contempt a day after a federal judge found that his office made “false” claims in court in order to free a man from death row. Krasner is an opponent of the death penalty.
On Nov. 16, a little more than two months after that scathing ruling, the Keystone State’s legislature passed a House resolution with seven articles of impeachment, each alleging various forms of “misbehavior in office.”
On Thursday, however, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania — an intermediate court of appeals — flatly disagreed, finding that “none” of those articles “viably allege” that Krasner “has acted in a manner that constitutes ‘any misbehavior in office.”
Instead, Judge Ellen Ceisler wrote in her lead opinion, the lawmakers just disagree with Krasner’s prosecutorial discretion. Their first article of impeachment criticized Krasner’s firing of experienced prosecutors, changed training procedures to align with his goals, and began factoring in immigration status into the plea bargaining process.
“The House claims that these decisions have led to decreased prosecution of crimes and guilty verdicts, as well as a sharp increase in the crime rate in Philadelphia,” the opinion states. “What the House does not do, however, is make assertions in Article I that would sustain a charge of misbehavior in office. Each of the House’s concerns in Article I pertains to discretionary determinations made by District Attorney in his role as Philadelphia’s district attorney, but are not supported by allegations that those determinations were the product of an improper or corrupt motive.”
“Instead, the House simply appears not to approve of the way [the] District Attorney has chosen to run his office,” the opinion stated.
Before becoming a prosecutor, Krasner worked in Philadelphia’s Federal Public Defender’s office – the majority of the justices found that lawmakers oppose Krasner’s prosecutorial values.
“Therefore, in sum, none of the Amended Articles viably allege that [the] District Attorney has acted in a manner that constitutes ‘any misbehavior in office,'” the ruling states. “As such, the Amended Articles do not comply with the requirements imposed by article VI, section 6 of the Pennsylvania Constitution and cannot serve as the basis for a constitutionally sound impeachment trial.”
Krasner’s office declined to comment.
As the order does not explicitly state that the impeachment proceedings must stop, it is unclear what its effect will be. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Senate Republicans are currently considering the implications of the ruling.
It also inspired a dissent by Judge Patricia A. McCullough, who parted ways with her colleagues in finding a lack of jurisdiction.
“Although Krasner has raised serious and far-reaching issues concerning his reputation and the breadth and scope of the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s (General Assembly) impeachment powers (the import of which should not be minimized), he has failed to join in this action the Senate of Pennsylvania (Senate) and the Senate Impeachment Committee (Impeachment Committee), both of which clearly are indispensable parties,” McCollough wrote in her dissent.
McCollough added that her colleagues “hurriedly and needlessly plunged this Court into a wash of nonjusticiable political questions over which we currently have no decision-making authority.”
“In so doing, the Majority transgresses longstanding separation of powers principles,” she continued. “For these reasons, I must respectfully, but avidly, dissent.”
Judges Renée Cohn Jubelirer and Michael H. Wojcik joined the lead opinion, and Wojcik also authored a concurring opinion to express that — while he agrees with his majority colleagues — he also finds that “the question of whether the House and Senate should proceed down that path is not within our purview,” emphasizing the word in original.
Read the lead opinion below:
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