During the Stanford Solidarity Network’s (SSN) “Fight Sexual Harassment at Stanford” event hosted at the Women’s Community Center on Thursday afternoon, law professor and activist Michele Dauber directed a training on temporarily changing voter registration for students who wish to vote in the June 5 Santa Clara County election.
The election includes a measure that, if passed, would recall from the bench Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky ’84 M.A. ’85, who handed down what critics describe as an overly-lenient sentence to former Stanford swimmer and sexual assault convict Brock Turner. Another measure on the ballot asks voters determine who should replace Persky if he is recalled. Assistant District Attorney Cindy Hendrickson ’87 and San Jose civil attorney Angela Storey are currently vying for the judgeship. A petition assembled by the Recall Aaron Persky campaign, an organization spearheaded by Dauber, gained the requisite signatures to put the recall measure on the ballot.
At the event, LezLi Logan, co-chair of the Recall Judge Persky campaign, encouraged people — especially Stanford students — to register to vote for the recall. According to Logan, most students are unaware that they have the legal right to vote within the county, even if they have previously registered to vote in their home state.
“Students have the option to choose where their primary domicile is, so they can choose which address they vote from,” Logan said. She added that students can simply complete a registration form — either online or by mailing in a card — to vote within the Santa Clara County jurisdiction.
“If they registered or pre-registered to vote at home, they fill out the section dedicated to recent registration information,” Logan stated. “The [Santa Clara County] registrar takes care of it for you and will cancel that previous registration.”
After voting in the Santa Clara County primary in June, Logan clarified that students have the option to either continue voting within the county or to re-register to vote in their home counties.
“I think a lot of students — if they knew about it — would want to vote,” said Dauber. “Our campaign [is] using the power of democratic accountability.”
Karem Said, an anthropology Ph.D. student and the main organizer of the event, said that opponents of the Recall Judge Persky campaign have “misconstrued” their primary aim as advocating for a minimum jail sentence. According to Said, the recall campaign instead focuses on removing Judge Persky himself and empowering women in the Stanford community.
“The campaign is led by a coalition of women and led by women of color who support criminal justice reform,” Said explained. “This campaign belongs to a bigger moment of consciousness-raising related to the #MeToo movement.”
Many critics of the recall efforts — including the Voices Against Recall group — claim that removing Persky from the bench following his decision in the Turner case would compromise judicial independence. In Aug. 2017, nearly 100 California law professors signed an open letter encouraging readers not to recall the judge.
Stanford Law professor Robert Weisberg J.D. ’79, one of the letter’s signatories, has previously expressed concern that the recall campaign is misconstrued as the official stance of Stanford Law.
“There is a fair amount of distress that the recall campaign and things said by the recall campaign were imputed to [Stanford] Law School,” Weisberg told The Daily last year. “If more Stanford law professors opposed the recall than favored it … that should help disabuse the public of the notion that [the recall campaign] is Stanford Law School’s position.”
Justine Modica, a SSN member and third-year Ph.D. student in history, said that the campaign recall addresses racial inequity within the community. She said that SSN’s alliance with the Recall Judge Persky campaign was in support of sentencing equity, not necessarily longer sentencing.
“Many African American men commit the same crime as Brock Turner and they face, on average, 25 [years] to life in prison, while Brock Turner went to prison for three months,” Modica stated. “We’re fighting against a system that tells black boys when they rape, they get life in prison, and [tells] white boys that when they rape it’s a learning experience.”
Dauber emphasized the issue’s immediacy and locality.
“Do you want to have a vote over who’s going to decide on rape cases if you get raped, or someone you care about gets raped?” Dauber asked the attendees. “Because it’s going to be heard right here in this Palo Alto Courthouse, and if you want to vote on that, today’s the day.”
While Turner was convicted of three felony counts of sexual assault, he was technically not convicted of rape. Though the recall campaign and Dauber individually employ the term “rape” to refer to Turner’s crime, the rape charges he originally faced at the outset of the trial were dropped by the prosecution.
Some of Dauber’s colleagues take issue with this conflation.
“One can view the crime of which Turner was convicted as the moral equivalent of rape,” Weisberg said. “But I think it is the responsibility of a law professor to be precise about a legal matter on which that professor purports to be an expert, especially when the then-applicable sentencing rules differed for the crimes. Since presumably [Dauber] knows that the charge was not rape, one might ask why this false statement is being spread.”
After discussing the Persky campaign, Said and Modica screened “Rape on the Night Shift,” a documentary about the sexual assault of women in janitorial contract labor and hosted a discussion with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) member and Recall Judge Persky Campaign co-chair Rebecca Armendariz, as well as Maria Gonzalez, a former janitor, sexual assault survivor and community activist.
According to Dauber, the labor movement in particular has expressed solidarity with the Recall Judge Persky campaign. By combining a discussion of Persky’s recall with a forum about sexual violence in the service industry, SSN wanted to expand the scope of sexual violence as a problem that affects not only Stanford, but women everywhere.
“Students think about things that affect themselves,” Dauber said. “We want to make it clear that this is a problem that … affects all people. It cuts across class, education, occupation [and] privilege, and it falls most hard on women from marginalized communities.”
Dauber expressed hopes that students would partner with and advocate for service workers, working together to combat sexual violence and rape culture.
“This is a crime that affects all women, some of whom are in our midst,” Dauber stated. “I think that historically, some of the most powerful alliances have been alliances between students and workers.”
According to Renata Miller ’19, an intern for the Recall Judge Persky campaign, the organization will engage in community outreach efforts on campus, including canvassing student residences to publicize the campaign and encourage students to vote.
This article has been updated with additional comment from Robert Weisberg.
Contact Melissa Santos at melissasantos ‘at’ stanford.edu.