Pa. Senate Vote to Remove Kathleen Kane From Office Fails

The Senate voted 29-19 to remove embattled Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane from office, but a two-thirds majority was needed.


Pennsylvania state Sen. John Gordner speaks, during a historic floor debate, in favor of a resolution on whether to remove Attorney General Kathleen Kane from office, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Harrisburg, Pa. Some senators had challenged Kane’s ability to do her job after the state Supreme Court suspended her law license while she fights criminal charges. Kane had said the Senate’s removal process is unconstitutional. (AP Photo/Marc Levy)

After several hours of debate, the Senate failed to remove Attorney General Kathleen Kane from office today. The vote, held under an obscure statute of the Pennsylvania constitution last used in 1891, was 29-19 in favor of removal. A two-thirds majority was needed.

The vote was mostly along party lines, though two senators broke ranks. Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, a Republican from the Philadelphia suburbs, voted against removal. Sen. Rob Teplitz, a Democrat, voted in favor of it. “The position is not attorney and/or general,” Teplitz said during the debate. “It is attorney general.”

Debate before the vote was often heated and again broke down among party lines. “We have an attorney general who can’t legally do any of the legal provisions of the Commonwealth Attorneys Act,” Sen. John Gordner said. “The removal of an elected official needs more than just speculation and maybes,” Sen. Sean Wiley said. “I believe her election was a landmark, not an immunity card,” Sen. Lisa Baker said. “My conclusion is that she is impaired beyond redemption.”

Sen. Art Haywood, who represents parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery County, spoke passionately against Kane’s removal. “It is the Supreme Court that provided the temporary suspension, so it is the Supreme Court that would make the decision that the temporary suspension is being violated or not,” he said. “It is not for the Supreme Senate to decide, it is for the courts.”

“Today is a good day for all those who share my desire to restore confidence in our judges and prosecutors and integrity to our system of justice,” Kane said. “I am happy to continue this effort, finish the mission I pledged to carry out and the job for which I was elected to serve.”

The vote today would not have been the end, no matter what the result. Kane has vowed to fight any removal attempt from the Senate in this way. “She continues to believe as she has all along that the Senate process is unwarranted and unconstitutional,” her spokesman, Chuck Ardo, told The Patriot-News earlier this month.

The Pennsylvania Constitution requires the attorney general to be a member of the bar, but Kane was only suspended in September. The Supreme Court noted at the time it was not removing her from office. “An individual with a suspended law license, whether you like it or not, is still a member of the bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Sen. Larry Farnese said during the session today.

The Senate used Article VI, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania Constitution to vote on Kane’s removal from office. It was added to the Constitution in 1874 and last used in 1891, though the Senate eventually decided then it did not have jurisdiction to remove Treasurer Henry K. Boyer and Auditor General Thomas McCamant from office. The pair were embroiled in an embezzlement and bribery scandal that involved Philadelphia treasurer Philadelphia Treasurer John Bardsley. He had embezzled $1.25 million in tax revenue (in the 19th century!) from the state. Article VI, Section 7 of the Pennsylvania constitution was originally intended to address the removal of officials who had become incapacitated or senile while in office.

Gov. Tom Wolf has been calling for Kane to step down since she was indicted in August. “I’m not sure how she continues to run an office dedicated to justice and law when she herself is having to defend herself against these charges,” Wolf has said previously.

Kane’s law license was suspended in September by the State Supreme Court. She appealed but the court rejected it on the basis she did not submit her appeal in time. Ed Rendell has argued before the Pennsylvania Senate that Kane does not need a law license to do her job. The Senate’s Special Committee on Senate Address recommended a vote on Kane’s removal after the Supreme Court ruled on the appeal of her suspension.

After it failed today, the resolution removing Kane from office was re-referred to the rules committee. It could be brought up again.

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