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The voter recall of California judge Aaron Persky in June 2018 was a watershed cultural moment. For the first time in more than forty years, a sitting judge had been removed from the bench, by the local citizenry, in a special election. The recall—instigated in reaction to Judge Persky’s lenient sentence for a defendant convicted of three counts of sexual assault—was hailed as a major political victory for the #MeToo movement, and a sign of an emerging consensus that soft treatment of sex offenders within the justice system is no longer acceptable.
Any questions about the sustainability of the moment were answered five months later, when Alaska voters removed another experienced trial judge, Michael Corey, on similar grounds. Like Judge Persky, Judge Corey drew national attention after granting a light sentence to a sexual offender. As was true with Judge Persky, the sentence stirred widespread dismay and local protest. And as they had with Judge Persky, political activists rapidly organized to remove Judge Corey from the bench, arguing that his actions constituted a dereliction of judicial duty. The campaigns in California and Alaska employed similar messaging and similar methods of outreach. And both campaigns saw the judge’s removal as merely the first step of a larger political movement to change existing law and social attitudes about sexual assault.