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Bradley, Kloppenburg Advance In Wisconsin Supreme Court Race

Supreme Court Candidates To Meet In April Election

Gilman Halsted/Shamane Mills/WPR

Voters in the Wisconsin Supreme Court primary on Tuesday narrowed the three-way race to two, with sitting Justice Rebecca Bradley and Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg advancing to the spring election.

Bradley nabbed 44.7 percent of the vote while Kloppenburg grabbed 43.2 percent, with 100 percent of the precincts reporting. The difference amounted to Bradley edging out Kloppenburg by less than 9,000 votes. Milwaukee Circuit Court Judge Joe Donald placed a distant third.

And as the two finalists gear up for an April 5 showdown, the role of partisan politics in the race could take center stage.

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In her victory speech on Tuesday night, Bradley credited her win to running a positive campaign in which she avoided attacking either of her opponents. She said that voters responded to her promise not to legislate from the bench.

“I believe it so important on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, who will say what the law is and not what we may wish it to be,” she said.

Bradley said that judicial philosophy is what makes her different from Kloppenburg, although she declined to put a label on her opponent’s approach to the law.

“I will let Judge Kloppenburg speak for herself, but I have a track record of setting aside … how I might feel about a particular case, of what outcome I might like to achieve,” she said.

Kloppenburg used her victory speech to attack Bradley for her ties to Gov. Scott Walker and the conservative members of the current court. Walker appointed Bradley three times in the last three years — first to the circuit court, then to the appeals court and finally, to her current position on the Supreme Court. Walker appointed Bradley to the court following the September death of Justice N. Patrick Crooks.

Kloppenburg also accused Bradley of joining the conservative majority on the court to block reforms.

“She sided with Justices Roggensack, Gableman, Prosser and Ziegler to quash efforts to review the judicial code of conduct, which includes the standards for when judges from step aside from cases and to improve transparency on the court,” she said.

Bradley said the decision not to review the code was based on a technical problem with the proposal. She said she believes the reform might still happen in the future.

In her primary campaign, Kloppenburg has stressed her opposition to the role of outside partisan money in Supreme Court elections.

“I am running because I am unwilling to surrender the court to the partisan politics and the special interests that threaten its integrity and independence,” she said.

She accuses Bradley of being too willing to accept support from outside groups, but Bradley said candidates can’t control what is a legal form of political activity.

“I defend the First Amendment right of third parties, which are really just groups of people speaking out in elections and they have the right to do so, and it’s not my place tell them to stay out,” she said.

Kloppenburg cited the court’s recent decisions on Act 10 — the law that took away collective bargaining for public employees — and the state’s voter ID law as cases in which partisanship factored into the court’s outcomes.

Kloppenburg is currently an appeals court judge and was an assistant attorney general before that. This is the second time she has run for Supreme Court. The first was in 2011, when she lost in a close race to Justice David Prosser after a recount. That race was seen as a referendum on Walker’s policies.

Judge Joe Donald, who was eliminated Tuesday night, hasn’t endorsed either Bradley or Kloppenburg. But following his concession speech, he echoed Kloppenburg’s opposition to the role of partisan politics in what is supposed to be a non-partisan race.

“You know, it is the people’s court, and I’m just concerned about how things have gotten (to) this point where people are chosen based on ideology and not based on true impartiality and independence,” he said.

Donald got 12 percent of the vote, including more than 25,000 votes in his hometown of Milwaukee.

With a gap of just 1 percent between Kloppenburg and Bradley, Donald’s supporters could play a crucial role in the April 5 election.

Editor’s Note: For additional election results and information, visit Wisconsin Vote.org.

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