Guest Commentary: Philly DA Denounces Act 40 as Authoritarian Warning Shot Ahead of Critical 2024 Election Year

Larry Krasner speaking out against Act 40 last week

by Larry Krasner

District Attorney Larry Krasner on Thursday issued a stark warning to pro-democracy Pennsylvanians following the signing into law of PA Senate Bill 140, a Republican-backed effort to disenfranchise Philadelphia voters that was rushed to final passage on Wednesday night as lawmakers finalized a state budget package that was nearly six months overdue.

Senate Bill 140, now Act 40, strips the twice-elected District Attorney in the largest and most racially diverse county in Pennsylvania of prosecutorial authority over crimes within 500 yards of SEPTA property – effectively covering the entire county, and a back-door assault on Philadelphia voters following last year’s failed Republican effort to impeach and remove one of the highest-profile progressive DAs in the nation. An unelected, appointed “special prosecutor” would substitute for Philly’s elected DA.

According to legislative analyses conducted by Pennsylvania Senate Democrats and the DA’s Law Division, Act 40 unconstitutionally infringes on the core functions of Philadelphia’s elected District Attorney, who is a duly elected constitutional office holder. The law also improperly interferes with and undermines the constitutional authority of duly elected members of Philadelphia City Council and the Mayor.

Amid the months-long state budget impasse, as preschools, colleges and universities, libraries, and myriad essential public goods and services ran out of money due to political infighting in Harrisburg, Republicans behind a baldly dishonest impeachment effort targeting me crafted another legislative assault on the will of voters in Philadelphia. Like the impeachment effort, Act 40 is built on outright lies and falsehoods about Philadelphia, its voters, and public safety.

Act 40 purports to be about public safety on SEPTA properties, but in actuality it is an unworkable display of word salad that practically begs to be litigated in court – which I suspect may be the point. Pennsylvania Republican-allied law firms to date have racked up more than $3 million and counting in taxpayer-funded legal fees for an impeachment that has been denounced as a farce by newspaper editorial pages across the country, by pro-democracy groups and elected officials, and was substantively been shot down by the Commonwealth Court. No one should be surprised if these same law firms also stand to profit from the litigation that Act 40 nakedly invites.

As the Commonwealth’s chief attorney and law enforcement officer, Attorney General Henry should recognize the unconstitutionality and unenforceability of Act 40. Not only have Pennsylvania Republicans done this, their MAGA comrades in Washington yesterday all but admitted that an impeachment inquiry they approved targeting President Joe Biden is about making sure Donald Trump – the greatest threat to American democracy and global stability in our lifetimes – is reinstalled in the White House whether voters like it or not.

As SEPTA CEO and General Manager Leslie Richards and I reminded the public recently, according to SEPTA’s own data, reported criminal incidents on SEPTA represent less than 1% of all reported incidents of crime in the city of Philadelphia. If SEPTA were a neighborhood, it would be among the safest neighborhoods in the Commonwealth.

The premise of Act 40 is a lie — just like the lasagna of lies MAGA Republicans have been spewing since before the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. I urge Attorney General Henry to recognize the blatant unconstitutionality of Act 40, and call on pro-democracy and justice-seeking elected officials and law enforcement leaders in Pennsylvania to join me in focusing on the crucial task of protecting the public’s safety – and securing our nation’s democracy – in 2024.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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