Bradley, Kloppenburg Face Off In Statewide Debate Friday

Bradley's College Writings, Judicial Impartiality Remain Major Issues

Gilman Halsted/Shamane Mills/WPR

With a little over two weeks left before Wisconsin voters decide who will fill a seat on the state Supreme Court, the two candidates have a chance Friday night to make their case to a statewide audience in a live debate.

The election pits Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley — appointed last fall by Gov. Scott Walker to fill an interim seat on the bench — against state Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg. Friday’s debate provides an opportunity for the two to continue what’s become battle to define themselves as impartial and each other as too ideological for the state’s highest court.

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The debate will be broadcast live on Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television, starting at 7 p.m. It will be accompanied by a live chat featuring expert analysis at wpr.org.

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Recent forums have focused heavily on newspaper editorials Bradley wrote two decades ago while in college that include harsh anti-gay and anti-abortion comments. Bradley has apologized for the statements and maintains she no longer holds those views, either personally or in how she approaches legal questions. Kloppenburg argues the statements are still a relevant indication into how Bradley might approach cases. Meanwhile, Bradley has tried to cast Kloppenburg as a judicial activist who would try to make policy from the bench.

While officially a non-partisan contest, conservative politicians like Walker and right-leaning advocacy groups have thrown their support behind Bradley. Kloppenburg, meanwhile, has support from progressives.

Each candidate comes to the race with a mix of experiences on both sides of the bar. Kloppenburg, 62, served as a legal intern for then-Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and clerked for federal District Court Judge Barbara Crabb after graduating from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1988. She worked for 23 years as an assistant attorney general in the Wisconsin Department of Justice, focusing on prosecuting environmental cases. She ran unsuccessfully against Justice David Prosser in 2011, and was elected to her current appellate judgeship in 2012.

Bradley, a 1996 UW Law grad, worked as a private litigator at several Milwaukee firms from 1996 to 2012, when she was appointed to the circuit court in Milwaukee. She was appointed to an appellate judgeship in May 2015, and to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in October 2015.

Both judges have experience arguing before state appellate courts and have issued published opinions as appellate judges. Visualizations based on a WPR analysis of state court records show how their bodies of legal work stack up.

The debate will be broadcast live on Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television, starting at 7 p.m. It will be accompanied by a live chat featuring expert analysis at wpr.org.

Editor’s note: This debate is a collaboration between WPR, WPT and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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