Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley faces retention bid against Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley will face Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley in a race that will determine whether the conservative majority on the state’s highest court will grow.

Bradley, the 20-year incumbent who is generally viewed as part of the liberal minority, launched her re-election campaign on Jan. 6 with a news conference at the Wausau County Courthouse. Daley, a decorated war veteran with 26 years’ experience on the court, is garnering support from conservatives.

Races for the state Supreme Court are officially nonpartisan, but they have broken down along party lines in recent years, with outside groups spending heavily to influence the conservative and liberal makeup of the court.Bradley, 64, said in a statement on Jan. 6 that she’s committed to maintaining a non-partisan court “that is beholden to no special interest group large or small.”

“The people of Wisconsin deserve a justice who is tough, fair, and independent, with a proven track record of standing up for them,” Bradley said. “That’s exactly the kind of justice I’ve been for two decades.”

Daley, 67, was appointed to the circuit court in 1989 by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. He previously served four years as Rock County district attorney and has nearly 40 years of military service, including three years in the Marine Corps, where he earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star while serving in Vietnam.

“I look forward to a campaign which highlights the differences between my judicial philosophy and my opponent’s,” Daley said in a statement.

Justices serve 10-year terms on the seven-member Supreme Court. Bradley was first elected in 1995 and re-elected in 2005.

The Supreme Court race is the only statewide contest on the April 7 spring election ballot. Two state appeals court judges along with 63 circuit court judges will be elected across the state, along with dozens of school board members and other local offices.

A state Senate seat vacated by Republican Glenn Grothman after he was elected to Congress also will be filled. The district includes most of Washington, eastern Fond du Lac, northern Ozaukee, western Sheboygan, and southern Calumet counties.

Three Republicans had filed to run for the seat by midday on Jan. 6. Two additional Republicans, a Democrat and one independent all registered to run but had yet to submit the required paperwork before the 5 p.m. deadline.

The primary, for races with more than two candidates, is on Feb. 17.

Spring elections traditionally attract few voters and favor incumbents. But in 2008, incumbent Louis Butler lost his seat on the bench after corporate interests spent heavily on ads portraying him as working “to put criminals on the street” and accusing him of securing the release of a child molester. An ethics complaint was filed against his right-wing opponent Michael Gableman for false and misleading advertising, but the partisan court deadlocked 3 to 3 on pursuing the charges, so they were dropped.

Gableman has been accused of other ethical violations during his tenure on the court.

Bradley is a liberal-leaning judge, frequently siding with Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson. Conservatives have a four-judge majority on the court.

The court’s private deliberations have gotten heated, most notably in 2011 when Justice David Prosser put his hands around Bradley’s neck during an argument over an opinion upholding Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s law effectively ending collective bargaining for public workers. Prosser said he was making a defensive move, but charges were brought against him alleging that he violated the judicial ethics code. Bradley and four other justices recused themselves from the case, leaving the court without a quorum to move forward.

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