What is the Appropriate Standard for Judicial Recall?

I want to weigh in on an issue that involves my alma mater, Stanford University.  As I’m sure many of you know, a former student there, Brock Allen Turner, was convicted of three felony sexual assault counts against a woman who was visiting campus.  The judge in the case, Aaron Persky, then sentenced Turner to six months in jail and three years of probation.  Lots of people are outraged by this lenient sentence and have initiated a recall campaign against Judge Persky.

From what I know about the case, the sentence is preposterous. Here, though, is what troubles me.  Is it appropriate for a judge to be recalled or denied reelection for one decision, no matter how stupid it is?  I have not heard anything else about the judge’s tenure.  Now maybe folks in the Bay Area think that he’s a dimwit and this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Or maybe he is excellent in some cases but unfair to women in rape cases or just generally.  I have no idea.

Let’s say, though, that he’s a good judge who made a terrible decision in this case. Recalling someone on that basis strikes me as rather dangerous.  It means that any judge who makes a decision lots of people hate could justify a recall based on that single fact.  (This, of course, happened in Iowa some years ago to State Supreme Court Justices who ruled in favor of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.)  Is that really the standard that we want?  (Granted, maybe this is just an argument against having elected judges, but within that system I certainly think unprofessional or abusive judges should be booted out.)

If any of the Stanford faculty who are involved with the recall effort would like to write a guest post here offering their thoughts, I invite them to do so.

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2 Responses

  1. Joe says:

    Yes. One strike and you are out is a horrible policy to apply as a rule & that includes here.

  2. Joe says:

    It would not surprise me though that those who want to campaign to recall him could find out rulings by the judge that is problematic — it would be curious it this was just a one off.