• WisPolitics

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

 7:57 PM 

Bradley, Kloppenburg spar over judicial philosophy, partisanship

MILWAUKEE -- In their most contentious debate yet, the candidates for the state Supreme Court harshly slammed each other's judgment and character.

Some of the sharpest exchanges in the televised debate at Marquette Law School Tuesday night centered on recent news reports about Justice Rebecca Bradley's writings in college and about her representation in a child custody case of a former romantic interest.

Answering questions from debate moderator Mike Gousha, Bradley said she was "deeply sorry" for the offensive things she wrote in the Marquette Tribune as a "college kid" 24 years ago. In columns, she referred to some with AIDs as "degenerates," included the line "Homosexual sex kills" and used the word "queer" derisively.

"I'm embarrassed by them," Bradley said, repeating her past apology for the writings. "They really don't reflect who I am."

But her opponent, Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, said Bradley's career shows she hasn't changed. Kloppenburg pointed to a 2006 statement by Bradley equating contraception with murder, as well as the incumbent's support from Milwaukee County

Sheriff David Clarke, who espouses what Kloppenburg calls "extreme and hateful views."

Bradley retorted that she doesn't agree with everyone who supports her. She said

Kloppenburg's backers include Scot Ross, executive director of the liberal group One Wisconsin now, whom Bradley attacked for using "vile, sexist and obscene language" on Twitter. Ross' group found and recently released Bradley's college writings.

Before the debate on WISN-TV, Ross was outside with a small group of demonstrators who gathered to wave signs with slogans like "Judge? Not! Bradley's hate doesn't belong on the court." The protest was organized by We Are Wisconsin, another liberal advocacy group, said We Are Wisconsin spokesman Saul Newton.

Perhaps the debate's most dramatic moment came near the end of the debate, when Bradley lashed out at a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article that reported she had represented a former co-worker, with whom she had been romantically involved, in a 2005 child custody case.

The man's ex-wife objected, but a Waukesha County judge ruled that Bradley did nothing unethical.

Denouncing the article as "a vile piece of garbage masquerading as a piece of journalism" that "demeaned every woman in the state of Wisconsin," Bradley said she would have disavowed such a story had it been written about Kloppenburg. She challenged Kloppenburg to disavow the article.

But Kloppenburg declined, saying it was relevant to consider Bradley's judgment. She noted one legal expert had called Bradley's decision to enter the case "permissible but unwise."

Bradley said Kloppenburg had taken a similar tack in her previous high court race, against Justice David Prosser in 2011, when the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee ran what Bradley called a "sleazy ad" accusing Prosser of mishandling a child sexual abuse case as a district attorney. Kloppenburg objected that she had no control over third-party ads.

Throughout much of the debate, Bradley and Kloppenburg accused each other of partisanship while characterizing themselves as impartial jurists.

Bradley charged Kloppenburg would introduce politics to the high court through a "living constitution" judicial philosophy that lets personal beliefs bleed into rulings. The incumbent compared her own philosophy to that of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative who insisted cases should be viewed through the prism of the Constitution's original meaning.

Kloppenburg countered that voters need only look at how the two candidates reached their current posts to determine if they will be partisan. Kloppenburg said she owes her "judicial career to the people of Wisconsin," while Bradley was appointed three times to three judgeships during a three-year period by Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

"You can tell who will do that by how we got where we are," Kloppenburg said.

Bradley shot back that Kloppenburg hides from voters that she applied for judgeships three times, twice from then-Gov. Jim Doyle and once from President Obama, both Democrats, but was not selected for any of them.

"The reason that my opponent thinks I must be inclined to introduce partisanship into my decision making is because that's what she would do, and that would be consistent with her judicial philosophy," Bradley said.

Kloppenburg said Bradley's judicial philosophy boils down to slogans one could find at the website for the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group to which Bradley formerly belonged. Bradley countered she takes her philosophy from Marbury v. Madison, the 1803 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established the judiciary's role in interpreting laws.

The challenger also knocked Bradley for receiving support from the state GOP, which has made in-kind contributions to the justice's campaign, and for leaving oral arguments early to deliver a speech to the business group Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.

Kloppenburg called Bradley's departure "a dereliction of duty" that was unfair to the parties before the court. Bradley said she was able to watch the rest of the oral arguments on WisconsinEye and had asked all her questions.

The two meet again Friday night in a Wisconsin Public Television debate. The election is April 5.

-- By Larry Sandler

Editor's Note: This post has been updated with more from tonight's debate.

                                                                                                                  From the Marquette Law School

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