Georgia bill is latest GOP effort targeting prosecutors
A Georgia commission to discipline and expel unruly prosecutors is the latest national move to increase oversight of what Republicans call “woke prosecutors”, who don’t do enough to combat crime.
On Monday, the Georgia House voted 97 to 77 for Senate Bill 92, which created the commission. Later, the Senate sent the measure to Republican Governor. Brian Kemp was asked to sign or veto the measure. Kemp previously supported the idea.
The Georgia bill is in line with efforts to eliminate prosecutors from Florida, Missouri and Indiana. It also addresses wider disputes across the country over how criminal offenses should charged. All of these anti-crime campaigns continue as Republicans ran them last year. They accused Democrats of coddling criminals, refusing to prosecute entire categories of crimes and acting improperly. All these efforts raise questions about prosecutorial discretion, which is the prosecutor’s decision on what cases to pursue and what charges to bring.
Carissa Hessick is a law professor at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. She said that the Republican push attempts to reverse a major shift in the prosecution. Hessick is the director of the Prosecutors & Politics Project and said that voters will be able to engage in meaningful discussion about the policies of prosecutors for the first time.
She said, “I believe it’s because there was a push to use the office prosecutor to address mass imprisonment and injustices in the criminal justice system.” “That movement was successful at many places.”
Georgia Democrats strongly oppose the measure. They claim that majority Republicans want to impose their will upon local Democratic voters.
Fani Willis, Fulton County District Attorney, has denounced the measure. She claimed it was a racist attack on Georgia after 14 non-white district attorneys were elected in Georgia in 2020. Willis, who is currently facing charges against Donald Trump for interfering with the 2020 election in Georgia, has pushed herself into the middle of the controversy. Some see it as Republican revenge against the Atlanta prosecutor.
The bill’s energy has not been directed against Willis. Willis is also pursuing tough-on crime against alleged gang members. Many Georgia Republicans are angry at Deborah Gonzalez, a Georgia district attorney who covers two counties, including Athens, Kemp’s hometown. She is being criticized for refusing to prosecute marijuana crime, a lack of prosecutors working under the her and failing to meet court deadlines.
Houston Gaines, a Georgia Republican Representative from Athens, stated that “that’s the whole purpose of this bill. It’s to restore public safety places where you have district attorneys who simply don’t do their job.”
This effort was inspired by frustrations surrounding a suburban Atlanta Republican prosecutor who was accused of bribery in relation to claims of sexual harassment. He was unable to stop until he pleaded guilty in 2022 to unprofessional conduct.
Jackie Johnson, the coast Georgia district attorney, was later charged with hindering police investigations into Ahmaud’s murder in 2020.
After Johnson’s defeat, Democratic interest was tempered. They now believe that Republicans should respect local voters’ will.
Rep. Tanya Miller of Atlanta, a Democrat, and a former prosecutor, described Monday’s bill as a “power grab by the major party to usurp voters will by putting this entity in the business oversight of duly elected prosecutors throughout the state.”
The Georgia bill is crucial because it requires that every case with probable cause must be considered by a prosecutor. It cannot exclude certain cases from prosecution. Indiana has a similar bill that would allow an oversight board to appoint a special prosecution to handle cases where a noncompliant prosecutor refuses or is unable to prosecute certain crimes.
Hessick stated that prosecutors reject more cases than they accept, so it is unrealistic to consider each case individually. She stated that Georgia’s law will not change the decisions of prosecutors about which cases they pursue, but it will make it harder for them to discuss their decisions.
Hessick stated that “it’s designed to prevent them from running for these platforms of reform.”
Prosecutors who, before Roe V. Wade was overturned 2022, declared that they would not prosecute any abortion-related offenses could be subject to the rules. These pledges were made by seven of the current Georgia district attorneys, as well as many others across the country.
These laws may be challenged in some states. After district attorneys sued, a New York court rescinded a 2018 commission to investigate prosecutorial misconduct. It had too much oversight over independent offices and gave rise to a lawsuit.
Then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed another version of the law in 2021. A court spokesperson stated that the commission isn’t operating yet because there aren’t enough members.
Georgia legislators can impeach solicitors general and district attorneys — elected prosecutors in certain Georgia counties who deal with lower-level cases. They claim that impeachment would consume too much time. Instead, the new commission will investigate and make decisions. An appeal by a prosecutor to a state-level or state Supreme Court could be made.
Pennsylvania is currently in impeachment proceedings. In November, the state House Republicans voted to impeach Larry Krasner, Philadelphia District Attorney, for failing to prosecute minor crimes and his bail policies.
Krasner filed suit to contest the legality of the impeachment. A divided state court ruled in his favor, finding that impeachment articles did not reach the legal threshold.
During the appeals process, plans for an impeachment trial of the Republican-majority Pennsylvania Senate were put on hold. The Democratic majority now controls the Republican majority in the House that voted to impeach. It is not clear what this will mean for any trial.
Other governors and legislatures took more direct steps to remove prosecutors. Republican Florida Governor In August, Ron DeSantis in Tampa’s Hillsborough County suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren. DeSantis was found to have illegally targeted Warren by a federal judge because he is a Democrat who publicly supports abortion and transgender rights, and because it would politically benefit DeSantis. The judge wrote that he was not authorized to restore Warren. This led to DeSantis appealing to the state Supreme Court.
DeSantis’s replacement for Warren was a prosecutor who has since resumed prosecution of some misdemeanors that Warren had stopped bringing to trial, including disorderly conduct, suspended licenses and panhandling.
Missouri’s GOP-led legislature is also trying to move the needle.