The impeachment last week of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner by the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania House sets up one of the highest-profile battles yet between reformer prosecutors and their conservative opponents.
If Republicans are successful in their efforts to remove Krasner, they would knock off one of the most high-profile and aggressive members in a wave of reformer district attorneys elected over the past five years. But if Krasner survives, it will only further cement the twice-elected prosecutor’s reputation and his mandate.
The Pennsylvania House voted along party lines last week, 107–85, to impeach Krasner. Pennsylvania Republicans accused Krasner’s policies of leading to the horrific spike in gun violence and homicides in Philadelphia. “His lack of proper leadership serves as a direct and proximate cause of the crisis currently facing the city of Philadelphia,” the House resolution calling for Krasner’s impeachment says.
The House will now send the articles of impeachment to the state Senate, where, after a trial, a two-thirds vote would be required to remove Krasner from office. However, Republicans only control 28 out of 50 seats.
Krasner held a press conference today, flanked by City Council members and local activists, defending his record and attacking the impeachment vote. “What you’re seeing is the MAGA wing of the Republican Party acknowledging they can’t win elections against criminal justice reform, because that is what the people want,” Krasner said.
The impeachment is the latest move by Republican legislators and governors against elected prosecutors they view as too soft on crime. This summer, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis removed Tampa Bay–area State Attorney Andrew Warren from office, accusing him of neglect of duty for refusing to prosecute some low-level crimes and saying he would not press charges for violations of Florida’s new laws restricting abortion and transition-related care for transgender minors. In Virginia, Republican lawmakers tried and failed to pass a law targeting progressive prosecutors that would have allowed the state attorney general to take over violent crime cases.
The New York Post editorial board somewhat bizarrely characterized the vote to impeach Krasner as part of a “revolt against woke DAs,” as if it was engineered by everyday Philadelphians rather than a state GOP that just lost its House majority.
In a press release, Krasner said Republican lawmakers impeached him “without presenting a single shred of evidence connecting our policies to any uptick in crime.”
When Krasner, a longtime civil rights and criminal defense attorney, announced his candidacy for Philadelphia district attorney in 2017, the local police union called it “hilarious.” They stopped laughing after he won the Democratic primary, thanks in part to generous funding from a super PAC connected to liberal megadonor George Soros.
After handily winning the general election, Krasner fired around 30 prosecutors. He ended cash bail for many low-level offenses and stopped prosecuting some misdemeanor crimes, such as marijuana possession, altogether. He also started a conviction review unit and began working to overturn old convictions that were tainted by misconduct and sloppy work.
But nothing enraged police unions more than his prosecutions of cops for excessive force, something that was practically unheard of in Philadelphia before he took office. Krasner’s office brought murder charges against three officers for three fatal shootings, and in September, his office secured the first homicide conviction against an on-duty Philadelphia cop in 44 years.
The rise in violent crime seemed like it would create political headwinds for Krasner, but despite Republicans’ and police unions’ best efforts, he cruised to reelection in 2021 with 69 percent of the vote.
While Krasner makes an easy target for Republicans looking for someone to blame, less attention has been paid to the Philadelphia Police Department’s failures.
An audit last year by the Philadelphia City Controller reported that the city’s police department was shockingly disorganized, wasteful, and ineffective. Among its findings: Between 2016 and 2020, the department had the lowest homicide clearance rate among the 10 largest cities in the country, even as its budget ballooned during that same period.
The Pennsylvania House Select Committee on Restoring Law and Order, created to investigate Krasner and Philadelphia’s rise in violent crime, released a report in October that found that “a jaw-dropping 81% of non-fatal shootings and 61.5% of fatal shootings did not result in arrests,” a failure the committee attributes to staffing shortages.