When San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin was ousted in a recall vote, his loss was a setback for a national movement to remake the justice system, the New York Times reports. Boudin is one of the most visible and powerful wave of prosecutors who are fulfilling campaign promises to jail fewer people, reduce racial disparities and hold police officers accountable for misconduct. His ouster will embolden those who say the policies of liberal prosecutors are a threat to public safety in a time of heightened concerns about crime. Already Republican legislators in New York and Illinois, where they are in the minority, have proposed legislation to allow prosecutor recalls. Still, prosecutors seeking to reduce incarceration continue to win elections and re-elections, and some of the most powerful liberal district attorneys have held onto power. Even as more liberal prosecutors have won elections, opponents have turned to recalls and other methods to curtail their power.
The push for criminal justice reform was once touted as bipartisan, common-sense medicine in the world's incarceration leader. Such reform has been reframed by opponents, including law enforcement groups, as the province of the far left. In San Francisco, it was not clear that the recall vote signaled widespread opposition to change. Supporters of the recall insisted they were in favor of criminal justice reform — just not of Boudin. A poll showed that many of his policies, like unwinding wrongful convictions, remain popular. One commentator, in a San Francisco Chronicle opinion essay, warned of the emergence of a “‘I’m a progressive, but …’ demographic” of affluent white people whose commitment to social justice and ending mass incarceration has limits. More liberal policies still seem to appeal to those most vulnerable to violence. Law Prof. John Pfaff of Fordham University said a preliminary look at voting patterns suggest that in San Francisco and other cities, the areas most affected by violent crime and guns tended to support liberal prosecutors. Chief Chicago prosecutor Kim Foxx said prosecutors are the "last responders" that people call upon to act when all other public social safety nets fail.