Judicial Recall and Retention in the #MeToo Era
Court Review, Vol. 55, No. 1, pp. 36 (Spring, 2019)
8 Pages Posted: 6 May 2019
Date Written: May 2, 2019
In 2016, California judge Aaron Persky issued an extremely lenient sentence to a defendant convicted of sexual assault. Two years later, in what was seen as a major victory for the #MeToo movement, voters overwhelmingly recalled Judge Persky from office. Later in 2018, Alaska voters also ousted a state judge from the bench after a #MeToo-fueled campaign. Judge Michael Corey had also issued a shockingly light sentence to a sex offender, and similarly was targeted by activists for removal.
The circumstances surrounding the ouster of both Judge Persky and Judge Corey were eerily similar in all but one crucial respect. Judge Persky was removed through a recall election, a process that is rare and difficult to implement, and which is specifically designed to be an outlet for public protest over particular judicial decisions. Judge Corey, by contrast, was removed through a retention election, a process that is both automatic and routine, and which is designed to encourage voters to assess a judge’s overall performance without any regard for specific decisions.
This short article, written for a symposium on the Persky recall, examines the important differences between recall and retention elections, and explores the consequences of recall strategies making their way into retention elections, with particular attention to the anti-Persky and anti-Corey campaigns.
Keywords: #MeToo, judicial selection, retention elections, recall elections, judicial recall, Persky, sentencing
JEL Classification: K10, K40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation