PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia's elected Democratic prosecutor faces a state Senate trial and possible removal from office after the Republican-led state House voted Wednesday to impeach him over progressive policies he has enacted amid rising crime in the city.
Lawmakers voted 107-85 to impeach District Attorney Larry Krasner, setting the stage for what would be the first Pennsylvania Senate impeachment trial in nearly three decades. Republicans currently have a 29-21 majority in the state Senate, going to 28-22 early next year, and a two-thirds vote of the senators present would be required to remove Krasner.
Krasner, who was overwhelmingly reelected by Philadelphia voters last year, is not accused of breaking the law. Instead, Republicans argued that he should be removed from office for various reasons, including his failure to prosecute some minor crimes and his bail request policies, his staff oversight and reports that his office didn't adequately notify crime victims about certain matters. They also alleged that Krasner obstructed the House's investigation of his office.
Krasner said in a statement that the vote was the only time the state House has ever “used the drastic remedy of impeachment of an elected official because they do not like their ideas.”
“They have impeached me without presenting a single shred of evidence connecting our policies to any uptick in crime,” he said
Democrats said lawmakers have only removed two officials — both of them judges — through impeachment: the first in 1811 and state Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen in 1994.
State Rep. Martina White, R-Philadelphia, a prime sponsor of the impeachment resolution and a political ally of the city police union that has clashed with Krasner, said: “This man has denied that there is even a crisis of crime happening on our streets."
“No public official is above accountability, and if not for us in this chamber, he would have no oversight,” White said.
Former prosecutor Rep. Tim Bonner, R-Mercer, said “anarchy and violence will prevail” if elected leaders can choose what laws to obey or enforce.
“No one individual has the right to set aside the laws of Congress or the General Assembly because they simply do not like the law. No one has that degree of absolute power," Bonner said.
Democrats argued that Krasner was being scapegoated for wider problems with crime, that the case against him is weak and that his removal would be an abuse of legislative power. They said the lame duck session impeachment would overturn voters' will and that House Republicans have themselves failed to act to address gun violence.
“You are doing the wrong thing,” said state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia. “I will be generous and say that maybe you’re making a mistake. But if you look at what is before us, and when we think about the sacred obligation we have as members of this august body, this is not what we ought to be doing.”
State Rep. Mike Zabel, a Democrat from Philadelphia who served as a city assistant district attorney under Krasner’s predecessor in office, said Krasner was being blamed unfairly for things that were not entirely his fault.
“The truth is that prosecuting crimes in one of the largest cities in the country is a complex task with a never-ending parade of challenges,” Zabel said, urging fellow lawmakers to “take a break from the political brinksmanship.”
State Rep. Jared Solomon, D-Philadelphia, was appointed to the committee of managers for the impeachment trial on Nov. 18.
“As a legislator and as a member of this committee, I have a deep honor and respect for the law and for the integrity of our constitution," Solomon said. “I take this role as an opportunity to carefully review facts and present evidence knowing there is a difficult burden of proof. Without legal precedent for impeachment in these circumstances, it matters more than ever that we put constitutional integrity above partisan inclination and judiciously review what is before us.”
It’s unclear when the state Senate will launch a trial. The two-year legislative session ends in two weeks, but the chamber's top ranking Republican, state Sen. Kim Ward of Westmoreland County, said this week that she intends to add days to the session to take up the matter.
If the Senate returns before year’s end, it will have to figure out the next steps, likely first setting the rules and then formally accepting the articles of impeachment from the House. The process is not expected to wrap up quickly.
In a lengthy Oct. 24 report, the Republican-led House Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order, which was empaneled to look into Krasner’s tenure as district attorney, said that over the previous 21 1/2 months, there had been 992 homicides in the city, contrasting it with 551 over the two-year period 2015-16. The report also found that 18-20% of gun crimes had been dropped by Krasner’s office, compared to 8-10% statewide.
But Krasner’s office responded that 20 of the 54 U.S. cities with at least 10 murders in 2019 saw greater increases in homicides than did Philadelphia over 2019-21. And Krasner has noted that the homicide rates during those years were higher in five of the state’s 13 largest counties — Allegheny, Berks, Chester, Lehigh and Luzerne — than they were in Philadelphia.
The resolution directed House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, to name two Republicans and a Democrat to manage the case in the Senate.