Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley declined to say this week whether she would recuse herself from an abortion case in light of comments she made as a college student equating abortion to the Holocaust.
A moderator asked Bradley during a debate with opponent JoAnne Kloppenburg whether she would remove herself from an abortion case if one came before her because of her comments. Bradley responded by saying she makes recusal decisions on a case by case basis.
Bradley said that if she had any question in her mind about her ability to be impartial, she would recuse herself. She added, though, that justices are expected to set aside their political stances and apply the law as written.
Bradley on abortion
A liberal group, One Wisconsin Now, revealed this month that Bradley wrote letters and columns for her college newspaper in 1992 calling gay people “queers,” saying she had no sympathy for AIDS sufferers and calling abortion a holocaust of children. Bradley has apologized and said her views have since changed.
Kloppenburg was asked during the debate at the Madison Rotary Club whether she would recuse herself from potential cases involving conservative groups Wisconsin Club for Growth and Wisconsin Alliance for Reform.
Kloppenburg, an appellate judge, remained on a case involving Club for Growth in 2014 even though the group had spent against her during her failed 2011 Supreme Court bid.
The Club for Growth had sued to halt an investigation into whether Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign illegally coordinated with outside groups, including the conservative group. Kloppenburg and two other judges on the 4th District Court of Appeals dismissed the lawsuit. The Supreme Court later took the case and halted the probe last year. Kloppenburg told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board this month that she didn’t believe she had to recuse herself because the Club for Growth had spent money against her, not for her, and therefore no perception of quid pro quo existed.
Alliance for Reform, meanwhile, has bankrolled a number of anti-Kloppenburg ads.
Kloppenburg said Wisconsin’s rules for judicial recusal are weak because they essentially leave it up to each individual judge to decide for themselves whether he or she can act impartially. If she was faced with cases involving Club for Growth or Alliance for Reform, she said she would look at the timing and how far removed her connections with the groups are in time and the amount of expenditures involved.
Kloppenburg also said she supports using public dollars to support Supreme Court candidates’ campaigns, saying that would help reduce the influence of third parties running ads. Bradley countered such a system would leave candidates with less funding and give third parties a stronger voice in races.
Kloppenburg kept chipping away at Bradley’s qualifications, noting that Walker has appointed her to every judicial position she’s held, including the Supreme Court. Bradley said Kloppenburg was being hypocritical since she applied for judicial appointments from former Gov. Jim Doyle and President Barack Obama.
The debate was the fourth between Bradley and Kloppenburg in the last nine days. They will square off in the April 5 general election for a 10-year term on the high court.
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