Wisconsin Supreme Court Candidates Disagree on Political Appointments, Judicial Philosophy

Mar 9, 2016

Justice Rebecca Bradley and Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg made clear during a debate Wednesday that the two candidates are very different from each other.

The Milwaukee debate began with opening statements from each candidate about why she is the best choice.

Justice Rebecca Bradley touted her judicial philosophy. “I am the first Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice to bring experience from both the trial court bench and the court of appeals bench,” she said.

For her part, Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg said she’s running because she is unwilling to surrender the court to special interests and partisanship. “And that’s what distinguishes me from my opponent. Independence, integrity and experience,” she said.

Throughout the hour long debate, the judges went back and forth over a number of issues, including political appointments. Bradley has been appointed by Gov. Walker to three different positions in recent years, something Kloppenburg points to as a sign of partisanship. Bradley mentioned that Kloppenburg herself had applied for appointments but had not been chosen.

Kloppenburg responded, “I did apply to both governors, Gov. Thompson and Gov. Doyle to be on the court of appeals and I didn’t have the political connections to get me there. What is unusual about the about the series of appointments that have gotten Rebecca Bradley to the court is a fast track series of appointments to the circuit court, the court of appeals and the Supreme Court in just three years. That fast track series of appointments suggest that it was politics not qualifications that got her on the court."

The two candidates also disagreed on judicial philosophy, with Bradley criticizing her opponent.

“Judge Kloppenburg has also espoused that she believes through the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court whose judicial philosophy she is most aligned with, she believes that our constitution is a living document, the meaning of which should change to reflect changing social and political conditions. That allows a judge under that philosophy to introduce her personal policy preferences and politics into her judicial decision making. And as I’m talking to people all over the state of Wisconsin, that is exactly what they do not want,” Bradley said.

While Kloppenburg and Bradley worked hard to distinguish themselves, it’s safe to say that the debate was overshadowed by recently uncovered writings by Justice Bradley.

She’s been taking flak for disparaging comments she wrote two decades ago about gay people, people with AIDS, women who have been date raped and for comparing abortion to the Holocaust and slavery.

On Wednesday, she again apologized and talked about her growth as a person. “As you interact with people who come from different backgrounds and different experiences. As you listen to people who have experienced terrible prejudice and unfairness in their lives, when you learn and grow as a person through your life experiences and through interacting with different people, you realize how wrong you might have been when you thought you knew everything at the age of 20,” Bradley said.

Judge Kloppenburg said there is proof that Bradley’s thinking has not changed. “From her membership in groups like the Federalist Society and the Republican National Lawyers Association to an article she wrote just a few years before she was first appointed by Gov. Walker that appeared to equate contraception with murder,” she said.

Voters have less than one month to make a selection. The term on the state high court is for 10 years.