Tag Archives: Patrick Crooks

The case for Rebecca Bradley’s conversion is weak

The wages of Rebecca Bradley’s “sins” have caught up with her in a big way. But will they lead to the death of her career — and will they further corrode the reputation of her political handler, Gov. Scott Walker?

Wisconsinites will get part of the answer on April 5, when Bradley, currently serving as an interim Supreme Court justice, faces her infinitely more qualified challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg at the polls for a full 10-year term on the bench.

Foremost among Bradley’s “sins” are the viscerally hateful anti-gay columns she penned as a student at Marquette University about gays, people with AIDS, Democrats, feminists and every other group singled out by the extreme right during the “culture wars” of the early 1990s.

She claims to have changed her views about gays in the ensuing 20-plus years. Supporting that claim, Bradley sought out WiG’s endorsement for her first and only judicial election. During our interview with her, she seemed at ease, quite likeable and sincere in her support for LGBT rights.

But on every other far-right issue, Bradley has remained immovable, which suggests that her support for LGBT individuals comes with unspoken qualifiers. In light of our interview, for instance, we were surprised to learn recently that she sits on the governing board of the St. Thomas Moore Lawyers Society. That organization pushes for “religious rights” of the kind that involve trampling on other people’s rights in the name of religion, such as allowing people who own public accommodations to deny services to gays and lesbians if they feel to do so would violate their beliefs.

The only evidence Bradley has offered of her more inclusive adult sensibilities seems either self-serving or scandalous. She appeared at a Fair Wisconsin fundraiser, which proves she’s willing to rub elbows with LGBT people to further her electoral career. She says she’d perform a same-sex wedding, if asked; but after four years on the bench she’s never been asked, which indicates she doesn’t know many gay and lesbian people very well, at least not the marrying kind.

Ironically, the most convincing evidence that Bradley’s strict Roman Catholic code of sexual morality has evolved comes from her personal life: She was divorced after eight years of marriage, had an extramarital affair and had what sounds like a “friend with benefits” relationship with her former boss after they stopped dating “exclusively.” She’s been accused of breaching ethical legal standards by representing that boss in a custody battle with his ex-wife, despite the objection of the ex-wife and her lawyer. Her description of that episode suggests a measure of petty vindictiveness between the two women — a scenario that’s troubling because she took the personal soap opera into a court of law.

Otherwise, Bradley has maintained her fundamentalist Catholic view on choice — and even contraception. In 2002, she equated abortion with murder and compared it to slavery and the Holocaust. In 2006, she penned a column defending a pharmacist’s right to deny contraception as an act of religious conscience. Defying scientific consensus, she described certain contraceptives as abortifacients, meaning they cause miscarriages. That’s a view that elevates Catholic doctrine above science.

Friends and allies

The most telling indicator of Bradley’s current state of mind is the company she keeps, and that should trouble voters for a variety of reasons. Her life is peopled with the same kinds of organizations and individuals with whom she was linked in the early 1990s.

Bradley has not earned her judicial career through her stellar educational background, legal writings, major cases or her legal career — which in part has consisted of defending doctors from malpractice claims and corporations from liability suits. She’s won the kind of honors that glossy magazines sell to advertisers, and she received the 2010 Women in Law Award from the Wisconsin Law Journal. But she did not have a Supreme Court-level legal profile outside of religious- and corporate-right circles.

Since 2012 Bradley has been hand-groomed for the bench by Walker, who’s appointed her to every judicial position she’s held during the ensuing four-year period. It’s easy to imagine that Walker was mentoring Bradley expressly for the state’s highest court.

If that’s true, it must have felt like a windfall for Walker when Supreme Court Justice Patrick Crooks dropped dead just months after Walker had elevated Bradley to an appeals court position. The tragedy gave Walker the chance to anoint his disciple as an interim justice on the high court.

Now, just a few months later, she can run as an incumbent for Crooks’ expired 10-year term.

During Crooks’ tenure, the Wisconsin Supreme Court leaned conservative by a 5–2 margin. But while Crooks ruled with his right-wing judicial colleagues 80 percent of the time, Bradley likely can be counted on as reliably as Walker’s other slavish supporters on the bench. She certainly feels as if she can count on him: She registered the domain name justicebradley.com before she’d even applied for the interim position — possibly before Crooks’ body was interned.

Bradley’s fierce partisanship and lack of political independence should concern voters. The Republican Party is virtually handling her campaign, which is being heavily funded by special-interest corporate groups. It’s safe to say that she’s deeply in the pocket of those corporations, which are bent on rolling back clean air and water regulations, getting rid of unions and allowing for endless political spending. She’s also served as president of the Milwaukee Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society, a group whose mission could have been lifted from Charles and David Koch’s greediest dreams.

The combination of Bradley’s over-the-top anti-gay writings and her fierce loyalty to the Republican Party and its moneyed special interests have prompted protests against her during the final weeks of the campaign.

We Are Wisconsin has either staged or planned demonstrations outside of every Supreme Court candidate debate. Protesters have carried signs printed with some of Bradley’s most offensive writings. But group member Saul Owen said it’s the totality of Bradley’s record — the unseemly partisanship, the big-money support and the political opportunism as well as the hate rhetoric — that has local leaders and advocates alarmed, not only by Bradley’s candidacy but about the degradation of justice in Wisconsin that it embodies.

Wisconsin Justice Rebecca Bradley. — PHOTO: Courtesy
Wisconsin Justice Rebecca Bradley. — PHOTO: Courtesy

“She can’t be trusted to hold everyone equally under the eyes of the law,” Newton said.

We Are Wisconsin has called upon Bradley to pull out of the race, charging that her campaign has tainted even further the Supreme Court’s already heavily strained credibility.

We Are Wisconsin plans to hold its next demonstration on Friday, March 18, outside a debate hosted by Wisconsin Public Television.

Closed loop

Bradley and Kloppenburg were virtually tied in the most recent poll, which was taken in February. That was before the indefatigable Scot Ross, executive director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now, uncovered and shared Bradley’s explosive hate writings from the Marquette Tribune. It also was before a misleading but effective anti-Kloppenburg television ad hit the airwaves, along with other contorted and inflammatory advertising.

The ads were paid for by an astroturf group misleadingly named Wisconsin Alliance for Reform. The group formed last October to run ads attacking former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold. The group’s Web domain reportedly was purchased by Lorri Pickens, whose husband has connections to Bemis, a company owned by the family that Ron Johnson married into. The company remains one of Johnson’s company’s best customers.
For a long time, Pickens has been associated, either directly or indirectly, with right-wing corporate PACs such as the Koch-brothers-backed Wisconsin Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity. She has also worked with Julaine Appling’s anti-gay Wisconsin Family Action, and she managed Vote Yes for Marriage, the group that supported the 2006 state constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage and later sought to overturn the state’s domestic partnership registry. (WFA is not making an endorsement in the Supreme Court race.)

That connection alone argues against Bradley’s self-proclaimed new worldview. And, on close inspection, her professional life has been lived in a closed loop with some of the same right-wing evangelicals and corporate-owned political hacks with whom she bonded during her years as a shock columnist at the Marquette Tribune, writing about how women play a role in their own rape.

Walker claims he had no knowledge of Rebecca Bradley’s writings when he appointed her as an interim justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Bradley didn’t disclose the college columns in her applications for judicial appointments. Where the forms asked for academic and extracurricular activities, she listed her time as a Marquette University student senator and as editor of the student newspaper at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School.

But Walker’s disavowal is hard for anyone informed about his history with Bradley to believe.

Both were student Republicans whose time at Marquette overlapped, and both wrote conservative commentaries for the Marquette Tribune. Today, the two travel in the same corporate-right Republican circles, and they’re practically neighbors. Their Wauwatosa homes sit around the corner from each other, less than half a mile apart.

JoAnne Kloppenburg
JoAnne Kloppenburg

Bradley’s most controversial writings, including the column in which she called gay people “queers” and “degenerates” who deserved to die of AIDS, were published two years after Walker dropped out of college. But they had a common acquaintance — Jim Villa, one of Walker’s longest and most trusted advisers. Villa served as Walker’s chief of staff for five years when the governor was Milwaukee County executive, and he also served as an informal adviser during Walker’s brief presidential run last year.

Villa was a target during the John Doe investigation into possible illegal political activities among Walker’s Milwaukee County staff. Investigators, who suspected Villa of misconduct in public office and solicitation of public employees to commit misconduct, applied for a search warrant of Villa’s home and office.

Villa was not charged and went on to receive a cushy appointment from Walker in 2014 as the UW System’s vice president of university relations. Villa, who was president of the Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin at the time, had no discernible qualifications for the job, which came with a salary of $178,000. Critics of Walker’s civil service overhaul have cited Villa’s hiring as a blatant example of the cronyism they say will become the new norm in state hiring decisions under the revamped law.

Ross contends that it’s inconceivable Villa wouldn’t have mentioned the columns to Walker, given their inflammatory nature and the pair’s decades-long relationship.

But Villa denied that allegation to The Associated Press, saying, “Not only did I not speak to him about it, I didn’t remember those writings.”

That statement rings especially false because Villa’s gay sexual orientation, a well-known secret in GOP political circles, would make Bradley’s diatribes against “homosexuals” hard to forget — especially given their shocking level of malice: “The homosexuals and drug addicts who do essentially kill themselves and others through their own behavior deservedly receive none of my sympathy,” Bradley wrote on Feb. 28, 1992, in a statement that typifies the aggressive style of her writings at the time.

For all the public knows, it might have been Villa’s coming out to his friend Bradley that led to her changing attitude toward LGBT people. But Villa declined to return a phone message left by WiG seeking clarification.

A lose-lose situation?

There’s a reason Walker has refused to say whether he would have appointed Bradley if he’d known of her public writing in advance: If he replied in the affirmative, he’d run the risk of alienating all but the right-wing evangelists who form the hard core of Republican loyalists. On the other hand, if Walker condemned Bradley’s unseemly written tirades, then he might suffer a backlash from the same voters.

Perhaps that’s why Bradley’s apologies for her past writings and her insistence that she has changed have struck so many people as hollow. If she backtracks on the vitriol that would inspire homophobes to the polls to support her in droves, she’s undermining her own election effort.

Bradley’s attempts to temper her past writings already have some of her most bigoted supporters up in arms.

On Charlie Sykes’ online blog Right Wisconsin, one anti-gay follower wrote: “If Bradley backs down here, she loses my vote. She needs to show some spine. The majority of voters in April will be older and whiter. That demographic does not thing (sic) gays are equal to straights.

Another wrote (quoted verbatim): “If they stay within their sex preference and not frakkin cheat, that gene goes away. Benefit for marriage is for those who can reproduce within their sex preference. BY the way, she was correct back then, gays, bisexuals and drug users spread HIV and cost millions in healthcare costs. Go ride a seatless bike.”

Bradley surely does not want to be associated with that kind of ignorance, but without such supporters she might very well lose the race, despite the millions that corporate special interests will likely spend on her.

The same holds true for Walker. His political fate might now be intertwined with his Frankenstein’s monster. With approval numbers that are under water, Walker cannot afford to be associated with either the bigoted rage surrounding his surrogate’s image or a repudiation of that rage.

This time, whatever the outcome of the Supreme Court race, Walker seems to have manipulated himself into a corner. After all the failed attempts he’s made to keep his strategic moves in the dark, he still hasn’t learned that he’s being watched by people like Ross and reported on by all of the state’s responsible media.

 

 

Right-wing money, politics at issue in Wisconsin Supreme Court race

The two rivals trying to unseat Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley, whom Gov. Scott Walker appointed to the court last October, warned of the influence of partisan politics on the state’s highest court at a candidate forum on Jan. 27.

Bradley and challengers JoAnne Kloppenburg and Joe Donald appeared together for the first time at a forum hosted by the Milwaukee Bar Association, three weeks ahead of the Feb. 16 primary that will narrow the field to two before the April 5 general election.

All three are seeking a 10-year term to replace Justice Patrick Crooks, who died in September. By appointing the relatively inexperienced Bradley, Walker ensured that she’d have the huge advantage of incumbency heading into the elections. Judicial incumbents nearly always win re-election, but some political observers say this appointment could backfire, given Walker’s low approval rating. It could turn the race into a referendum against the unpopular governor.

“It is unprecedented for a Wisconsin governor of any party to appoint a declared judicial candidate to the Supreme Court this close to an election,” said Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling at the time of the appointment. “This power grab sets a terrible precedent and doesn’t pass the smell test.”

“The fact that Walker twice named her to judgeships before makes her ‘Walker’s candidate,’ Kloppenburg said in a statement.

“The Bradley campaign and the Republican Party are essentially one and the same,” said a statement from Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Joe Donald’s campaign manager, Andy Suchorski, at the time of her appointment.

Neither Kloppenburg nor Donald applied for the vacancy, saying it’s unethical for an announced candidate to apply for a judicial seat while campaigning for it. Even though each is more qualified, they would never have been considered anyhow, given their lack of right-wing credentials.

Walker has appointed Bradley, who has only about four years of judicial experience, to every judicial position that she’s held.

Bradley was so certain he would appoint her to the high court that she registered a website as a Supreme Court justice before the applications were even due.

On Jan. 27, however, Bradley pledged to run “a positive and nonpartisan” campaign and said she welcomes support from anyone who offers it.

She’s a Walker donor, however, and her past support has come primarily from the Republican Party and the dark money groups that pile huge amounts of cash into the coffers of tea party political candidates.

Walker’s first appointment of Bradley helped her narrowly win her race to retain the circuit court job he gave her. But $167,000 from the Koch brother’s Club for Growth and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce also contributed to that victory. The Koch brothers and their corporate allies oppose all government regulations, all watchdog groups and limits on money in politics, and all government assistance programs, including college aid, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. Their ultimate goal is to sell off all public land to corporate interests and privatize all government functions except the military.

Bradley is their perfect candidate. A former president of the Milwaukee chapter of the Federalist Society, a far-right libertarian lawyers group, she’s also belonged to the Thomas Moore Society, a conservative Catholic legal group, and the Republican National Lawyers Association. She began her legal career protecting corporations from liability lawsuits and doctors from malpractice suits.

At the Jan. 27 forum, Kloppenburg, a state appellate judge who was elected to that position on her own, said she would accept campaign funds from any groups except political parties. She said her experience makes her best to do “justice without fear or favor” and to “stand up to special interests.”

Donald, a Milwaukee County Circuit judge, touted his independence. He said the election is important to restore integrity at the Supreme Court and that without a new independent, “we’re stuck with an ideologue on the court for the next 30 years,” referring to Bradley, who is only 44 years old.

Wisconsin’s year: Walker flames out, Ryan moves up, and more

A failed presidential bid, a new job for Rep. Paul Ryan and a capital city on edge were some of the most notable stories in Wisconsin in 2015. A look back at those and others:

SCOTT WALKER: The Republican governor spent the first half of the year hop-scotching across the country laying the foundation for his presidential run, visiting early primary states and courting Republican donors. He officially jumped into the race in July but floundered in a crowded field that included real estate mogul Donald Trump. Less than three months later, with poor poll numbers and the prospect of dwindling donor support, he was out.

PAUL RYAN: Wisconsin’s other national political figure found himself under pressure to take over as House speaker after John Boehner abruptly announced plans to quit the job. Ryan appeared to want nothing to do with the job before relenting and being elected in October.

MADISON UNREST: The state’s capital city was on edge for weeks after Tony Robinson, a 19-year-old biracial man, died in a confrontation with a white police officer in his apartment building in March. Robinson’s death sparked waves of street protests, but District Attorney Ismael Ozanne ultimately decided that no charges were warranted against Officer Matt Kenny.

WISCONSIN DRIVERS: The state’s drivers got the green light to hit the gas _ on some roads, anyway —J after Walker signed a bill giving state transportation officials the power to bump the speed limit from 65 mph to 70 in some places.

JOHN DOE INVESTIGATION: For nearly three years Walker endured ugly headlines as the state Government Accountability Board and Milwaukee prosecutors pursued a John Doe investigation _ a procedure similar to a grand jury proceeding where information is tightly controlled _ into whether his 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with outside conservative groups on issue ads. The state Supreme Court finally halted the probe in July, ruling such coordination is legal. Three months later, Walker signed a bill prohibiting prosecutors from using the John Doe against politicians.

YOUTH PRISON INVESTIGATION: The state Department of Justice was asked late in the year to examine allegations of misconduct at the facilities that house youth prisoners in Irma. Allegations at Copper Lake/Lincoln Hills School include sexual assaults, physical confrontations and child neglect. A top corrections official and the Copper Lake/Lincoln Hills superintendent were relieved of their duties.

MILWAUKEE ARCHDIOCESE BANKRUPTCY: A federal bankruptcy judge approved a reorganization plan for Milwaukee’s Roman Catholic archdiocese in November that called for distributing $21 million to hundreds of clergy sex abuse victims. The plan splits most of the money among 355 people. Another group of 104 people will get about $2,000 each. Archbishop Jerome Listecki apologized to victims in court shortly before Judge Susan Kelley approved the plan, saying he believes the archdiocese has turned a corner.

TOMAH VA MEDICAL CENTER: Wisconsin Veterans Affairs Medical Center Chief of Staff David Houlihan was put on leave in January while the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs investigated allegations of overprescribing narcotic pain medications and retaliatory behavior at the Tomah facility. In August the VA’s inspector general said deficiencies in care led to the death of 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran Jason Simcakoski in 2014. Houlihan was fired in October, a month after the center’s director, Mario DeSanctis, was dismissed.

UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN SYSTEM: A tough year for the UW system included a $250 million budget cut and a tuition freeze. State lawmakers also removed tenure protections for UW professors from state law, though system regents were considering restoration of some protections in a process expected to last into the spring.

LABOR UNIONS: Not a good year here, either, as Walker signed a bill making Wisconsin a right-to-work state. That means workers can’t be required to join a union or pay union dues, a change likely to erode membership. The state AFL-CIO is suing, arguing the law is unconstitutional.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS: The NBA team is getting a shiny new $500 million arena, with taxpayers committed to half that under a bill signed by Walker. The new building may open for the 2018-19 season.

SUPREME COURT UPHEAVAL: Longtime Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson was bounced from that post by the court’s conservative majority after voters approved an amendment letting the justices pick their chief rather than going by seniority. Justice Pat Roggensack was made the new chief. Separately, 77-year-old Justice Patrick Crooks died in his chambers in September, giving Walker an opening to appoint conservative-backed Rebecca Bradley to finish his term. She’ll have the advantage of incumbency in the spring election for a full 10-year term.

MARTY BEIL: The often brusque leader of the Wisconsin state employee labor union died in October at age 68. Beil was the face of the union for years and was at the center of the losing fight against Walker’s signature public union restrictions.

RUSS FEINGOLD’S RETURN: After losing the U.S. Senate seat he’d held for 18 years to Republican Ron Johnson in 2010, the Democrat announced in May that he would run against Johnson in 2016.

AP-WF-12-18-15 2000GMT

Walker draws fire for appointing donor to Supreme Court

As predicted, Gov. Scott Walker has appointed Appeals Court Judge Rebecca Bradley to complete the term of deceased Justice Patrick Crooks on the state Supreme Court. Crooks, who had announced his plan not to seek another term in September, died suddenly on the job on Sept. 21.

The appointment of Bradley, a Walker donor who had never served on the bench until Walker appointed her to a circuit court position three years ago, has outraged critics from both sides of the aisle. They had urged Walker to either leave the position vacant until the next election in April or appoint someone who was not already an announced candidate in the race, as Bradley was.

The circumstances surrounding Bradley’s appointment make it a first. Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg and Circuit Court Judge Joe Donald are also announced candidates, but neither sought Walker’s appointment, as Bradley did.

Walker is unlikely to have appointed either of them due to politics.

Judicial races in Wisconsin are nominally nonpartisan, but the reality is that conservatives and liberals — and well-funded outside groups — coalesce around the candidates they favor and spend millions helping to elect them.

Still, “it is unprecedented for a Wisconsin governor of any party to appoint a declared judicial candidate to the Supreme Court this close to an election,” said Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling. “This power grab sets a terrible precedent and doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Critics say that Walker’s appointment of Bradley gives the relatively inexperienced candidate a big boost over her more-seasoned competition. It also turns the race into a referendum on Walker, according to leaders on both sides of the aisle.

“The fact that Walker twice named her to judgeships before makes her ‘Walker’s candidate,’ Kloppenburg said in a statement.

Walker’s first appointment of Bradley helped her narrowly win her first judicial race to retain the job he gave her. Also helping her victory were $167,000 in contributions from the Koch brother’s Club for Growth and the Republican Party.

Bradley began her legal career protecting corporations from liability lawsuits and doctors from malpractice suits. She moved on to commercial, technology and intellectual property law before Walker lifted her from obscurity by seating her on a circuit court bench in 2012.

Although Crooks was considered a swing vote on the court, he ruled with the Republican majority 80 percent of the time. Bradley has signaled that she might be more flexible than the standard-issue Walker acolyte on somce issues, including LGBT rights and child welfare.

But her backing comes from such right-wing groups as Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which reportedly urged another conservative candidate not to run against her. Brady served as president of the Milwaukee chapter of the Federaliost Sociaty, a far-right lawyers group, and belonged to the Thomas Moore Society, a conservative Catholic legal group. She’s also belonged to the Republican National Lawyers Association.

During what critics called Walker’s “coronation” of Bradley, he claimed she had the best resume for the job, even though she’s only been a judge for three years and was appointed to every position she’s held by Walker. Perhaps one of her attractions is Bradley’s relative youth. At 44, she could go on to serve several 10-year terms, helping to keep a solid right-wing majority on the state’s high court for an entire generation.

Reactions to Bradley’s appointment were swift and angry.

“(Walker) is giving a campaign contributor an unfair advantage in the race next year so Wisconsin residents will have no chance at having an open and fair election for the Supreme Court Justice seat,” charged Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Martha Laning in a prepared statement. Rebecca Bradley has given … to Gov. Walker and today it is paying off for her with her appointment to the Supreme Court.”

But Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, warned that Bradley’s appointment could backfire: “The governor making this appointment so close to the election does not serve the public well but is in line with Republicans’ continued right-wing special interest stranglehold on our state. However, I question why a judicial candidate would want to be so closely linked to a governor with a 37 percent approval rating.”

Kloppenburg came close to unseating controversial Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser in 2011, losing by 7,000 votes out of the 5 million cast. That race came at a time when left-wing bitterness against Walker over Act 10 was at its height. Prosser vowed on the campaign trail to support the governor’s policies from the bench — a jarring message to deliver in a campaign that’s supposed to be non-partisan.

Kloppenburg, however, took the high road, running a relatively low-key campaign in which she refused to talk about partisan issues. She says she’ll be more aggressive in this race.

Donald is positioning himself as the only non-partisan candidate in the race. 

Garren Randolph, a spokesperson for the Joe Donald for Justice campaign, issued a press release saying that unlike Bradley or Kloppenburg, Donald “has served for 19 years as an independent judge, and is earning support across the ideological spectrum because he is the only candidate in the race who represents a truly independent judiciary.”

Donald was appointed by Republican Governor Tommy Thompson.

“Neither Scott Walker nor his political opponents can expect Judge Donald to toe the party line — any party,” Randolph said in his statement.

UPDATE: Walker appoints Bradley to Wisconsin Supreme Court, changes election landscape

UPDATED: The death of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Patrick Crooks with 10 months left in his term has set up a spring election that’s as much a referendum on Gov. Scott Walker as it is on who should serve on the state’s highest court.

Walker has appointed appeals Judge Rebecca Bradley to hold the position in advance of the election next year, in which she’s already a candidate.

Common Cause in Wisconsin, the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign and Wisconsin Voices had sent Walker a letter asking him not to name one of the three candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court to fill out Crooks’ term, which runs through July 31, 2016.

But Walker did not heed their advice. He introduced Bradley as the appointee during a news conference on Oct. 9. The AP reported the appointment earlier in the day.

Bradley, at the news conference, said she didn’t expect the appointment by Walker to give her an advantage — or disadvantage — on Election Day. “I think when the voters are evaluating judicial candidates they look less at who’s appointed them and they look at their record on the bench, how they conducted their campaigns and what their qualifications and experiences are. I don’t think they look at who has appointed that judge or justice.”

The governor has been behind Bradley during every step of her rapid judicial rise. He’s twice named her to lower court openings and he likely was a factor in the $167,000 she got from the Koch brothers’ Club for Growth and the Republican Party to retain the relatively obscure seat to which he first appointed her on Milwaukee Circuit Court’s Branch 45.

That was in 2012. In 2013, aided by all the donations, she retained the seat against a challenger, earning 53 percent of the vote. In May, Walker appointed Bradley to the District 1 Court of Appeals.

Now, just three years after her first appointment to the bench by Walker, Bradley, 43, has her sights set on the state’s highest court. With her appointment by Walker, she has the advantage of running as an incumbent in the race for a 10-year term next April. 

Despite holding generally conservative views on issues like abortion and corporate entitlements, Bradley has high-profile friends in Milwaukee’s LGBT community and seemed very pro-gay during an interview with WiG two years ago. Likable and charismatic, she’s not the kind of judicial candidate normally associated with Wisconsin Republicans. It’s hard to predict what kind of Supreme Court jurist she’d make, but the safest guess is that she’d be more of a swing vote than a staunch ideologue.

Two other candidates had also announced their plans to run before Crooks died — JoAnne Kloppenburg and Joe Donald. Both are far more experienced jurists than Bradley and both are to the left of her politically.

In the past, Democrats have heavily backed Appeals Court Judge Kloppenburg. She came close to unseating Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser in 2011, losing by 7,000 votes out of the 5 million cast. That race came at a time when left-wing bitterness against Walker over Act 10 was at its height. Prosser vowed on the campaign trail to support the governor’s policies from the bench — a jarring message to deliver in a campaign that’s supposed to be non-partisan.

Kloppenburg, however, took the high road, running a relatively low-key campaign in which she refused to talk about partisan issues. She says she’ll be more aggressive in this race.

While Kloppenburg is generally considered the frontrunner for progressives, her fundraising for the 2016 race has been languid so far. Most of the $27,000 she’d raised as of September came from a loan she made to her own campaign. 

The third candidate, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald, presents himself as the most politically independent choice of the three, although Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca and other Democrats back him. He began his campaign with robust fundraising, taking in $109,000 by the end of June.

Races for the Supreme Court are officially nonpartisan, but the reality in recent years has been conservatives and liberals — and well-funded outside groups — coalesce around the candidates they favor and spend millions helping to elect them.

Coronation

Naming Bradley to the court solidifies Walker’s ties with her and makes the election “absolutely … a referendum on Walker,” Jay Heck, director of government watchdog group Common Cause in Wisconsin, said before the appointment. “That’s really not where the Supreme Court needs to be.”

In defense of considering Bradley for the vacant seat, Walker had cited two examples of judges who were appointed to openings and later ran for full terms. But in both cases from the 1990s, the judges had not announced their plans to run before they were appointed by then-Gov. Tommy Thompson.

The situation caused by Crooks’ death on Sept. 21 is different.

Crooks, who had been in failing health, had said he was not going to run for re-election. All three of the candidates were actively campaigning when Crooks died.

Walker had insisted that he would base his appointment decision on three criteria: finding someone who is an outstanding attorney, has integrity and “understands the proper role of a judge.”

Earlier this month, Kloppenburg said appointing Bradley “would appear to be an attempt to thwart the people’s will.” 

In a statement on Oct. 9, Kloppenburg said, “The choice in this campaign could now not be clearer: Gov. Walker’s choice or the people’s choice. I am running to be the people’s choice for Supreme Court. And I am asking the people of Wisconsin to stand with me in the coming election, for the integrity of our judicial system and against partisan politics and special interests on our Court.”

Garren Randolph, a spokesperson for the Joe Donald for Justice campaign, said, “What the people of Wisconsin want is truly independent judges. The public expects judges who don’t come to the bench with an ideological agenda, and who approach cases with an open mind. Cases should be decided based on the facts, the application of law, and under constitutional principles.

“By appointing Rebecca Bradley to the Circuit Court, to the Court of Appeals and now to the Supreme Court, Gov. Scott Walker has now elevated a loyal ally three times in four years, including twice in the last year. This abbreviated process simply cannot withstand public scrutiny.” 

Reaction to the appointment

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin, responding to Bradley’s appointment on Oct. 9, said in a news release, “Wisconsin residents deserve a fair and impartial Supreme Court and Gov. Walker’s appointment of a campaign contributor who has already declared she is running for the open seat next year has destroyed any possibility of a fair election.”

The party said Walker is giving Bradley “an unfair advantage in the race next year so Wisconsin residents will have no chance at having an open and fair election for the Supreme Court Justice seat. Rebecca Bradley has given generously to Gov. Walker and today it is paying off for her with her appointment to the Supreme Court.”

Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha added, “It is no surprise that Gov. Walker appointed the handpicked conservative candidate for Supreme Court. The governor’s actions are entirely consistent with Republican efforts to ensure the continued protection of corporate and special interests over the economic security of Wisconsin citizens.”

And Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse said, “It is unprecedented for a Wisconsin governor of any party to appoint a declared judicial candidate to the Supreme Court this close to an election. This power grab sets a terrible precedent and doesn’t pass the smell test.”

Editor’s note: This story is being updated.