By Dylan Deprey
It was warm outside, but it was even hotter inside the Milwaukee Bar Association at 424 E. Wells Street.
With the race to fill the seat in the Wisconsin Supreme Court looming in the distance, battle lines were drawn during the Milwaukee Bar Association Forums on Wednesday, March 9.
Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates, Rebecca Bradley, incumbent justice for Wisconsin Supreme Court, and JoAnne Kloppenburg, presiding judge of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals District 4, criticized each other’s judicial views during the forum.
They tackled typical speaking points concerning ethics, courtroom experience, upholding the law and running a nonpartisan race.
Although questions were addressed for both candidates, one of the main topics of discussion was the resurfacing of Bradley’s anti-gay and AIDs remarks in opinion pieces she wrote for the Marquette Tribune. The 24-year-old articles were written during her time as a student at Marquette University.
Bradley apologized countless times during the forum. She noted that after almost a “quarter of a century,” her views have drastically changed.
“I have grown as a person as I think many people can appreciate,” Bradley said. “We are not the same person when we were a 20- year-old kid in college.”
She attributed her changes to the interactions she has had with those that she originally wrote about, and hearing their experiences of prejudice.
Kloppenburg addressed her opinion on Bradley’s situation. Kloppenburg said that by tracing through Bradley’s career, she has never shown the change that she has claimed.
“She has continued to articulate very extremely conservative viewpoints throughout her career,” Kloppenburg said.
She also included that Bradley’s membership with the Federalist Society and Republican National Lawyer Association along with the backing from extreme conservative groups during the campaign has shown Bradley’s political viewpoint.
Kloppenburg also included how Gov. Scott Walker appointed Bradley three times for different judicial positions during a three year span.
Bradley reiterated that there is no record of allowing her political viewpoints into her judicial decisions.
She added that Kloppenburg has protested this because in turn, it is her own judicial philosophy to add one’s viewpoint to judicial rulings.
“She has explained this by saying it’s our job as judges to promote a more equal society,” Bradley said.
“But one judge’s idea can vary greatly of what it means to promote a more equal society.”
Bradley also added that Kloppenburg’s view of the constitution as a “living and breathing document” means that it is allowed leeway for change based on political preference.
“As I am talking to people all over the state of Wisconsin, that is exactly what they do not want in a justice no matter their political preference,” Bradley said.
Kloppenburg countered that Bradley’s rendition of her philosophy was “nonsense.”
Kloppenburg added that she has proven this through her three and a half year track record issuing decisions in the appellate court.
“Of course I apply the law as it is written and I approach every case with an open mind and apply that law to the facts in the case fairly and thoughtfully,” Kloppenburg said.
Bradley also added her own statement that fell along the same lines as Kloppenburg.
“People know I am a fair, impartial and compassionate jurist who does exactly what I have committed to doing, which is always following the law regardless of how I personally feel about that law or the outcome of the case,” Bradley said.
After an hour and closing statements from both candidates, the forum ended.
At this point on the campaign trail, the April 5 election is the finish line, and both Kloppenburg and Bradley are neck and neck for the spot on the bench of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.