Justice Rebecca Bradley, a member of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, calls it a “blatant mudslinging campaign to distract the people from the issues at hand.”
The mudslinging to which Bradley refers is the release of an opinion column and letters to the editor she wrote as a student at Marquette University. The release, first reported by One Wisconsin Now, comes in the final month of her campaign for election to the court, following her appointment last fall by Republican Governor Scott Walker.
In these letters and opinion pieces, Bradley called being gay an “abnormal sexual preference” and referred to people with AIDS as “queers” and “degenerates,” suggesting they deserved to die. In one passage, Bradley wrote: “The homosexuals and drug addicts who do essentially kill themselves and others through their own behavior deservedly receive none of my sympathy.”
These screeds, written in 1992, when Bradley was twenty and twenty-one, also shed light on her political worldview. She refers to Bill Clinton as “a tree-hugging, baby-killing, pot-smoking, flag-burning, queer-loving, bull-spouting ‘60s radical socialist adulterer.”
This from a person who complains about mudslinging.
Bradley, now 44, has apologized for these writings, saying she has evolved in her thinking to where she would now “be delighted” to preside over a wedding ceremony for a gay couple.
“I know a lot of people have gone through an evolution and a great change in thinking on issues that relates to homosexuality and gay marriage,” Bradley told the Wisconsin State Journal. “It’s just something that happens over time as people educate themselves and interact with people who have different experiences.”
Other Bradley writings have since surfaced, including a column in which Bradley referred to abortion as “murder,” adding: “Our society is turning a blind eye to this holocaust of our children, largely for the sake of the convenience, or perhaps the financial concerns of the women who choose abortion.”
And in a 1992 piece for a student magazine, Bradley described “the feminist movement” as “largely comprised of angry, militant, man-hating lesbians who abhor the traditional family” and defended an author who, in Bradley’s view, “legitimately suggested that women play a role in date rape.”
Bradley was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court last fall following the sudden death of Justice Patrick Crooks, the court’s lone centrist. She was at the time an announced candidate for the seat, to which Crooks was not seeking reelection.
It was the third time in three years that Walker had tapped Bradley, described by one former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice as “a rising star in the Republican Party,” for a judicial appointment. He previously appointed her to Milwaukee circuit court in 2012 and a state appellate court last May, where she served for just five months before advancing to the state’s highest court.
Her opponent in the April 5 election, Appellate Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenberg, makes an issue of Bradley’s ties Walker, saying she was was “plucked out of private practice and fast-tracked” to her current position.
Bradley, who describes herself as a judicial conservative, tilts the balance of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court even further to the right. The seven-member court has four conservatives, not including Bradley, and two justices considered liberal. Past elections have been shaped to a large extent by vast sums of money from outside interest groups.
Justices in Wisconsin are elected to ten-year terms. In the last six Wisconsin Supreme Court elections, going back to 2007, outside groups have spent at least $14.3 million, far more than the candidates’ own campaigns. In the two weeks before the February 16 primary, Bradley benefited from $1 million in spending by the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, a dark money group with Republican ties. The group is already running ads for the April 5 general.
Bradley’s anti-gay comments have been greeted with alarm from her foes and shrugs from her supporters.
The president of the group Log Cabin Republicans of Wisconsin, a gay advocacy group, defended Bradley, citing her attendance at a 2013 fundraiser for Fair Wisconsin, an LGBTQ advocacy group, as proof that her views have changed.
But Fair Wisconsin’s executive director, Megin McDonell, countered in a statement that attending “one election-season fundraiser while a candidate is not enough to convince me that Justice Bradley has experienced such a radical transformation in her views about the LGBT community and people living with HIV/AIDS.”
Bradley, expressing a degree of reticence far beyond what Wisconsin’s judicial code requires, declines to comment on any past state or federal court decisions. She does vow to follow to the law as it has been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, including its legalization of gay marriage.
Similarly, on abortion, Bradley flatly refuses to discuss her views, saying it is an issue that could come before the court. But she has received an endorsement from the state’s leading anti-choice group, Wisconsin Right to Life. And a much more recent past writing—an opinion piece in 2006, which Bradley has cited in all three of her applications for judicial appointments—argues that pharmacists should be able to refuse to fill prescriptions for contraceptives on religious grounds.
In fact, Bradley has uncommonly conspicuous ties to ideological and political groups. She’s belonged to the Republican National Lawyers Association and given money to Walker and the Republican Party of Milwaukee County. In the current campaign, she has accepted help from the state GOP and attended GOP events. She is past president of the Milwaukee chapter of the Federalist Society, a conservative lawyers group. She recently walked out of an oral argument before the court to give a talk to a business group that has poured millions of dollars into past races.
Still, she describes herself as nonpartisan and says her political views have nothing to do with how she would handle cases as a judge. Walker, predictably, is singing from the same hymnal, saying Bradley’s college writings are “irrelevant” to her appointment to the state’s highest court.
“It was appropriate that she clearly stated that those are not her opinions now and that they haven't been in her professional practice as an attorney nor in any of the judicial positions that she's had,” Walker told the Associated Press. “I think a good chunk of society has got very different views than they did in college, particularly for someone who [attended] almost a quarter of a century ago.”
This from a governor who has a blanket ban on issuing pardons to anyone convicted of a crime, regardless of circumstance.
Bill Lueders is associate editor of The Progressive.