- Views & Opinions
The April 5 election to fill a Wisconsin Supreme Court vacancy is no competition at all when it comes to experience, knowledge and integrity. Challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg towers in all three respects above opponent Rebecca Bradley, an interim incumbent.
Only the most hardened partisan would choose an undistinguished, political tool like Bradley over someone with the impressive credentials and bipartisan background of Kloppenburg.
Kloppenburg’s personal and professional history show her to be a person of strong values, with a commitment to justice rather than politics. During her 23 years as an assistant attorney general, Kloppenburg was praised by attorneys general from both parties. She litigated cases in many different areas of law and in circuit courts throughout the state. Through her work, she acquired a deep knowledge of the Wisconsin Constitution, the state’s legal precedents, and the cultures of various regions.
A lifelong advocate for justice, Kloppenburg joined the Peace Corps after completing a bachelor’s degree at Yale University and earning a graduate degree from Princeton in public and international affairs. After four years of volunteer work in Botswana and southern Africa, Kloppenburg attended the University of Wisconsin Law School, where she was awarded a law degree with honors. She says that she picked law as a career because of the impact it has on real people’s lives.
After law school, Kloppenburg worked as a law clerk for Chief Judge Barbara Crabb in federal district court in Madison and interned at the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
In 2012, Kloppenburg was elected to the Court of Appeals, where she now serves as presiding judge.
Throughout her career, Kloppenburg has remained an energetic volunteer for the state’s legal community. Among her many roles, she’s served as a mentor for the Dane County Bar Association and UW Law School, as well as a volunteer mediator for the Dane County Bar Association.
In 2011, Kloppenburg came so close to defeating Justice David Prosser in his bid for retention on the Supreme Court that a recount was ordered. She initially was declared victor in the race before some “missing” ballots surprisingly turned up in none other than Waukesha County.
Prosser ran on the promise to further Gov. Scott Walker’s agenda from the bench, a vow he’s certainly kept. At least he was honest enough to say it out loud. Bradley has done everything possible to suggest her goal is the same, while at the same time refusing to confirm or deny that.
National groups spent heavily on the 2011 Supreme Court race, but the $2.1 million Prosser took in from right-wing groups far outpaced the $1.4 million from the union and Democratic-affiliated groups that backed Kloppenburg. That election, like the current one, was seen as a referendum on Walker, and the big money interests that depend on him were not about to see the legal branch of his administration go down in defeat. They’re sure to do the same in this race.
Kloppenburg has put the ideal of judicial impartiality at the forefront of her campaign. Liberal groups, the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, and the Wisconsin Professional Police Association have endorsed her, but she’s steered clear of connections with the Democratic Party and any other relationships that would compromise her rulings.
In fact, she told WiG that an overarching reason she decided to run is her concern over the court’s politicization in recent years. The law is in her blood, and she’s disturbed at how the state’s highest court has eroded people’s confidence in it.
There are many differences between Kloppenburg and Bradley, but the most distinguishing one can be seen in the way each campaigns. While Bradley has campaigned by begging for bucks from the same corporate interests that control the state’s Republican Party, Kloppenburg has been on the road, introducing herself to voters face to face. Within the first 99 days of her campaign, she visited all of the state’s 72 counties.
Bradley’s dossier is paper thin next to Kloppenburg’s. She graduated from Divine Savior Holy Angels High School before earning a BS in Business Administration and Business Economics in 1993. In 1996, she earned a law degree from the University of Wisconsin.
Her experience as an attorney consists largely of defending doctors from malpractice suits and businesses from product liability suits. She also has a background in legal matters related to information technology and intellectual property litigation.
Bradley was president of the Milwaukee Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society, an extremist right-wing legal think tank heavily supported by the Koch brothers.
We feel obliged to go a step further here than endorsing Kloppenburg: We condemn the Republican Party of Wisconsin for its shady promotion of Bradley’s judicial career, which has put her under unequivocal obligation to Walker and his affiliated corporate interests. The story of Bradley’s career makes the strongest argument possible for the state to end its policy of electing judges instead of having them selected by qualified, politically independent legal groups.
Bradley would not be on anyone’s short list for a Supreme Court position. She’s enjoyed perhaps the most meteoric rise in the state’s judicial history — but not because of her brilliance. She owes her position to the patronage of Walker, the Wisconsin Republican Party, and right-wing business PACs.
Before 2012, Bradley had never even served on the bench. That’s the year Walker appointed her to a position on the Milwaukee County Circuit Court.
Armed with the advantage of incumbency and right-wing money, including $167,000 for a television blitz from the Koch-brothers-backed group Wisconsin Club for Growth, Bradley managed to hold on to that position when it came time for election. That was the first and last judicial election she’s ever won.
Last May, Walker appointed Bradley to her second position, the District 1 Court of Appeals. She served there for less than five months before he tapped her to fill the seat left vacant by the sudden death of Supreme Court Justice Patrick Crooks.
If anyone doubted that Bradley’s rapid ascent was an open-and-shut case of GOP cronyism, the facts surrounding her career should allay skepticism. The list of her donors is a who’s-who of right-wing activists and corporate special interests.
Bradley purchased the domain name justicerebeccabradley.com before even filing for the court’s interim position, a move that strongly suggests she had an inside track on the job. The same outside business groups that support Walker and the state’s Republican leaders spent over $1 million on her February primary race and are now running shamelessly false TV commercials on her behalf.
Bradley welcomed the Republican Party of Wisconsin’s help in circulating her nominating papers and making get-out-the-vote calls on her behalf. Her first act after winning the primary was to attend a big-ticket Republican Party fundraiser in Milwaukee.
Recently, Bradley ducked out of the court during oral arguments so she could give a speech to Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which is effectively the state’s most influential Republican PAC.
Bradley scheduled a March 14 fundraiser in Madison that features the Republican co-chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee as “special guests.”
Bradley has vowed to put her “partisan inclinations” behind her if she’s elected. More recently, she vowed to put behind her the insultingly homophobic newspaper columns she penned as an undergrad. But who in their right mind could believe she’s capable of such feats, even if she had the will to achieve them. Bradley is a Pinocchio; her strings are short and her master’s tug is powerful.
We urge voters to back Kloppenburg not only because she’s the far superior candidate in the race, but also to send partisan interests the message that justice is not for sale.