HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania lawmakers began a process Wednesday to study Philadelphia's growing gun violence plague, establishing a panel that could eventually recommend impeachment of the city's elected Democratic district attorney.
The divided House of Representatives voted 114-86 to establish the five-member Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order, which among other things could judge District Attorney Larry Krasner’s job performance and make “recommendations for removal from office or other appropriate discipline, including impeachment.”
The proposal was sponsored by Republican state Rep. Josh Kail of Beaver County, who two weeks ago announced plans to seek the impeachment of Krasner, a staunch progressive who was easily reelected last year despite the city's spiking homicide rate. Four Democrats and one Republican crossed party lines.
“The bottom line is this, all the laws in the world don’t mean a thing if we don’t have district attorneys that are willing to enforce them,” Kail said during floor debate.
Krasner spokesperson Jane Roh said the resolution showed “House Republicans’ support for the NRA’s agenda and complicity in gun violence due to their enabling of unrestricted flooding of firearms into every county in Pennsylvania.”
Democratic opponents of setting up the committee noted that Republicans have not taken similar action against GOP district attorneys with recent criminal charges or convictions, that their efforts to address gun violence have been utterly blocked in the Republican-majority General Assembly, and that targeting Krasner would not be an appropriate use of impeachment power.
“To think that in this moment, when we do actually have a gun violence crisis across the commonwealth, that we would come here and play these types of political games is really frustrating, and it’s an affront to folks in communities across Philadelphia who are desperate for solutions," said Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia.
Rep. Martina White, the only Republican House member from Philadelphia, said shootings and killings have increased steeply during Krasner's tenure in office. She said Krasner's job performance is “not just about charges that are brought, it's about the cases that are being withdrawn, cases that are tossed aside, victims that haven't seen justice for a family member.”
Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, will pick the committee's three Republican and two Democratic members.
San Francisco recalled its liberal district attorney this month, and national groups have been seeking to influence district attorney contests across the country. The parties are jostling for control of prosecutors' offices that can either block or adopt criminal justice reforms.
If the committee recommends impeachment against Krasner, the full House would then take it up. Impeachment, a very rare event in the Legislature — requiring a vote by the House and then trial in the Senate — was most recently deployed successfully against Supreme Court Justice Rolf Larsen nearly three decades ago.
The House voted to impeach, and the Senate convicted Larsen, a Pittsburgh Democrat, of one impeachment article in 1994, for having an improper discussion with a lawyer about court matters. He was permanently removed from the court and barred from holding public office in the state.
A different mechanism, direct removal in the Senate, failed when attempted against Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane six years ago, although she subsequently was convicted of perjury and other offenses and resigned.
But the threat of impeachment is not unusual, as occurred two weeks ago when state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, sought cosponsors for an impeachment resolution against Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell, who had already announced his departure from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's Cabinet.
Metcalfe also introduced impeachment resolutions targeting Wolf over his COVID-19 policies for the past two sessions, but neither gained traction. Recent Republican efforts to impeach Democratic Justice David Wecht, mostly over congressional and state redistricting, also have gone nowhere.
Lawmakers have also proposed impeachment in recent years against a Pittsburgh mayor, a Lancaster County sheriff, a Schuylkill County commissioner, other Democrats on the Supreme Court, a Montgomery County commissioner and a Lancaster district judge.
Wolf's spokesperson, Beth Rementer, called the Wolf impeachment resolutions attention-seeking political distractions. She said they have not taken much of his time.
“They have had no impact on the governor,” Rementer said. “To be frank, these resolutions are nothing more than political theater.”
A year ago, House Republicans also threatened impeachment against two Democratic elections officials in Philadelphia for counting mail-in ballots that had not been dated by hand. They backed down, but more recently the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the dates are not mandatory.