Impeached Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner filed a lawsuit earlier this month urging the courts to block the state Senate from trying him on the charges levied by the Pennsylvania House.
On Friday, the GOP-controlled Senate fired back with a lawsuit of its own, arguing the state constitution requires them to try the progressive district attorney.
Krasner’s lawsuit, targeting interim Senate President Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) and the as-yet-unnamed members of the Senate committee overseeing the impeachment, argued his trial would be unprecedented.
“Never before has the legislature exercised its power to impeach and remove someone duly elected twice for things that do not come close to a crime,” Krasner’s lawyers told the court. “And never before has the statewide legislature exercised its power to impeach a locally elected officer like District Attorney Krasner.”
Ward responded in Commonwealth Court and also filed a “Cross-Application for Summary Relief” arguing the Court cannot hear this matter without the Senate as a party, given that the suit seeks a declaration and order as to the rights of the Senate as a body.
In November, the House voted 107-85 to impeach Krasner, a progressive Democrat, who has presided over skyrocketing crime in Philadelphia. Under his watch, there have been 470 murders this year (as of Dec. 11) and 562 homicides in 2021. The city has seen more than 1,000 carjackings in 2022 as well.
The Senate set Jan. 18 as the date for the impeachment trial.
Krasner argues that as the duly elected district attorney, he is not subject to impeachment by the House and that the impeachment should not cross over to a new session that will begin on January 3.
In response to the House impeachment vote, Krasner said on Twitter: “Philadelphians’ votes, and Philadelphia voters, should not be erased. History will harshly judge this anti-democratic authoritarian effort to erase Philly’s votes – votes by Black, brown, and broke people in Philadelphia. And voters will have the last word.”
In the filing, Ward told the court the Senate is obligated to act upon the articles of impeachment according to Pennsylvania’s constitution.
“In commanding the Senate to try ‘all’ impeachments, the state constitution reflects a deliberate intent to ensure that the Senate’s impeachment function exists independent of its legislative powers,” according to the filing.
Ward also notes there were at least five prior impeachments in Pennsylvania. And if an impeachment is not permitted to go into the next session, a person who committed offenses would be able to walk away on a technicality based on timing rather than being held to account for their actions, Ward argued.
And Krasner, although he claims he is not bound by the legislature’s jurisdiction, “is in a position of public trust and is entrusted with exerting the power of the Commonwealth within Philadelphia County,” Ward’s filing noted.
Republicans said the definition of “misbehavior in office” was left vague so the drafters of impeachment in the House can “define its contours.”
“The context and the whole design of the impeachment clauses show that these acts were to be official, and the unlawfulness was to consist in a violation of public duty which might or might not have been an ordinary indictable offense,” the filing states.
And, conversely, Ward argued that since the Senate has not formed its impeachment committee, Krasner’s lawsuit is too early to be “ripe” for the court to act on.
The House committee that recommended impeachment heard from crime victims who said Krasner’s progressive policies that tilt toward the criminal rather than the victim had, in some cases, led to the deaths of their loved ones by those very criminals.