, ,

Bradley Courts Conservative Vote In Wisconsin Supreme Court Race

Campaign Events, Supporters Don't Suggest Her Impartiality Claims

Wisconsin Public Television

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley sent a crystal-clear message to her base on a recent February day that started with her listening to oral arguments in the Supreme Court. As arguments began on the final case of the day, all seven justices were in their seats, including Bradley.

But as proceedings continued, a Wisconsin Eye camera showed Bradley’s chair empty. The justice had left early to speak at a meeting of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, a juggernaut of state Republican politics. She was introduced by conservative talk radio host Charlie Sykes.

“Rebecca Bradley is one of the rising stars, not merely of the judiciary, but also of the conservative legal movement,” said Sykes.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

The event was an example of how while Bradley emphasizes her impartiality on the bench, it hasn’t stopped her from embracing the Republicans who are working to get her elected to a 10-year term on the court.

When voters go to the polls next Tuesday, there will be no “Republican” next to Bradley’s name. But things like Bradley’s WMC speech let dedicated GOP voters know where she stands. It’s a well-established playbook for conservatives, and it’s helped them win a majority on the court.

Once those signals have been sent, there’s less need for Bradley to get into details of the law on the campaign trail. At this WMC event, she sidestepped one question, saying it involved an issue that could come before the court. She was also asked about the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy and answered only that the president has a duty to nominate someone and the U.S. Senate has a duty to consider that person or not.

“I probably just shared something with you that you all already know, but I also don’t take positions on political issues of that nature,” Bradley said.

But that wasn’t always the case. Years ago, Bradley took very public positions on several political issues, insulting gay people and equating abortion with the Holocaust.

Former state Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske said she hasn’t seen a judicial candidate with a record quite like Bradley’s.

“I don’t remember candidates that have written letters to the editor and taken public positions, not as part of a political campaign, as Justice Bradley (has),” Geske said. “It’s clear she’s had very strong feelings for a very long time.”

As a student at Marquette University in 1992, Bradley wrote in a student newspaper that she had no sympathy for AIDS patients calling them, “degenerate drug addicts and queers.” Once the comments were publicized this year, Bradley apologized.

While Bradley said she’d changed, her opponent, Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, challenged Bradley during debates like one on WISN-TV, asking for evidence that she had grown as a person.

“We haven’t seen in her career evidence of change,” she said.

Kloppenburg pointed to Bradley’s support from Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a celebrity among Republicans with a flair for the shocking. The day the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, Clarke sent out a tweet that read, “Encouraged to see that the sense of resignation over SCOTUS and modern lib cultural rot is turning to anger today. Next is rage, then revolt.”

Bradley has brushed aside Clarke’s controversial remarks.

“I couldn’t possibly agree with everything that all of my supporters believe, because I have a diverse group of supporters,” Bradley said.

But Clarke isn’t your average supporter. Bradley’s campaign has featured him in radio ads.

“She needs your vote,” Clarke said in the ad that carries the disclaimer “paid for by Citizens for Justice Rebecca Bradley. “She’s got mine. Can I count on you?”

There’s a reason Clarke is in those ads: He’s a conservative darling with a track record of turning out the Republican vote in officially nonpartisan races like the campaign for state Supreme Court.