Pennsylvania Supreme Court Weighs Impeachment Trial Against Philadelphia Prosecutor

29 November 2023

The future of District Attorney Larry Krasner hangs in the balance as the Pennsylvania Supreme Court considers the legality of an impeachment trial and the definition of misbehavior in office.

Pennsylvania’s highest court is currently deliberating on whether the Legislature can proceed with an impeachment trial against Philadelphia’s elected progressive prosecutor, District Attorney Larry Krasner. The court is also tasked with determining whether it should define what constitutes misbehavior in office or leave it to the lawmakers. The outcome of this case will have significant implications for Krasner’s future as well as the boundaries of impeachment proceedings.

1: The Impeachment Trial and Its Controversy

Larry Krasner, a Democrat, was impeached by the state House in November 2022, despite being overwhelmingly reelected to a second term as Philadelphia’s District Attorney. The impeachment was prompted by allegations that Krasner failed to prosecute certain minor crimes, implemented questionable bail policies, and mismanaged his office. The case has now been sent to the state Senate for trial.

2: Should the Court Intervene?

During the oral arguments in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Justice Kevin Brobson, a Republican, questioned whether the court should intervene at this stage. He expressed concerns that the Senate may not attain the two-thirds majority required to convict and remove Krasner from office. Brobson argued against the court involving itself in the impeachment process, drawing a parallel to the General Assembly’s interference in court proceedings.

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3: Defining Misbehavior in Office

Justice Christine Donohue, a Democrat, argued that it should be the Supreme Court’s responsibility to define misbehavior in office, the grounds for removal. She suggested that once the court establishes a clear definition, the matter can be sent to the Senate for further action. Donohue emphasized the importance of providing a concrete definition to prevent the issue from resurfacing in the future.

4: Lawmakers vs. the Court

Lawyers representing the two Republican House members managing the impeachment trial argued that lawmakers should be the ones to determine what constitutes misbehavior in office. However, Justice David Wecht, a Democrat, expressed skepticism about leaving such a crucial decision solely in the hands of lawmakers. Wecht compared the process to indicting a “ham sandwich” and highlighted the potential for inconsistency in defining misbehavior.

5: Krasner’s Defense and Lower Court Ruling

Larry Krasner has dismissed the claims made by House Republicans, asserting that they are targeting his progressive policies. A panel of lower-court judges ruled on the matter, rejecting two of Krasner’s challenges but agreeing with him that the impeachment articles do not meet the state constitution’s definition of misbehavior in office. Krasner has appealed the decision, seeking reconsideration.

Conclusion:

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision on the impeachment trial of District Attorney Larry Krasner will shape the future of efforts to remove elected officials on grounds of misbehavior in office. The court’s intervention in defining misbehavior and its potential impact on the impeachment process raises questions about the separation of powers and the role of the judiciary in such proceedings. As the case unfolds, the outcome will undoubtedly have far-reaching consequences for the state’s legal and political landscape.

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