Senate had no power to remove Attorney General

Senate had no power to remove Attorney General

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March 2016 Senator Art Haywood

By Sen. Art Haywood

 

After the Pennsylvania Senate voted not to remove Attorney General Kathleen Kane, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati was quoted as saying “this circus continues.” Indeed, the circus of criminal proceedings, porn emails, and media distraction from pressing issues like raising our state’s minimum wage has not ended. The Senate had no power to end that circus.

I served on the Senate special committee that heard testimony and received evidence related to the removal of the attorney general on the basis of a specific question. The question before the committee, and the Senate itself, was whether the attorney general could serve in her role with a temporarily suspended law license.

The evidence presented convinced me that our attorney general could continue in her role with a suspended law license, and I voted against removal on those grounds.

Removing the attorney general on the sole basis of her temporary law license suspension would fly in the face of the facts before the committee. As an attorney and member of the bar of the Supreme Court, the attorney general currently meets the Pennsylvania Constitution’s requirements to serve. The constitution does not require the attorney general to possess a law license. It only requires the attorney general to have passed the bar, which Kane has done.

In fact, I learned that the attorney general’s role is that of a CEO directing the resources and priorities of an 830-person office. I heard testimony that more than 90 percent of the attorney general’s duties do not involve the practice of law.

Further, the Attorney General’s Office is not a solo law practice. Courts of Common Pleas are routinely ruling that the office continues to have the authority to prosecute criminals – through its staff of 300 licensed lawyers – while the attorney general’s law license is temporarily suspended.

It was these facts that compelled me to vote against the Senate’s removal of the attorney general.

It is critical that Pennsylvanians understand the narrow scope of the question before the Senate last week. The criminal proceedings involving the attorney general and the impeachment process are entirely unconnected to the Senate’s removal vote. In fact, the power of the Senate to remove the attorney general is limited to a little-known clause added to our state’s Constitution in 1874. This power was last used to remove a mentally incapacitated judge from office before the dawn of the 20th century.

What took place in the Senate was a historic decision on a singular question. Rather than leap into the circus, I based my vote on the evidence:

The Senate had no basis on which to remove the attorney general.

Sen. Art Haywood, D-Montgomery, represents the Fourth District.