MADISON — Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley is striving to solidify her place on the high court in the April 5 election, while Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg is trying to break through in her second attempt for the seat.
The race is officially nonpartisan, but has had a highly partisan tone in keeping with the court’s increased polarization in recent years. Conservatives rolled out ads criticizing Kloppenburg and liberals unearthed opinionated writings from Bradley’s history.
Both candidates have criticized the other for partisan ties, saying they wouldn’t be impartial on the state’s highest court.
Yet whichever way the race goes, the court will continue to lean conservative. Bradley is widely considered part of the court’s 5-2 conservative majority, which would shift to 4-3 with a Kloppenburg win.
The two candidates have been neck-and-neck in the race, according to a February Marquette Law School poll, but about 30 percent of registered voters were undecided.
Since then, the liberal group One Wisconsin Now brought to light opinionated writings from Bradley’s college days in 1992 critical of homosexual AIDs victims, feminism and abortion. She has apologized repeatedly for the anti-gay writings, but it’s unclear what impact they will have on the swath of voters who know little of either candidate.
Bradley has the advantage of incumbency, although with only a few months on the court. Republican Gov. Scott Walker appointed her to the seat in October following the death of Justice Patrick Crooks in his chambers. Walker had previously appointed Bradley to two judgeships on the Milwaukee County circuit court and the state Court of Appeals.
Kloppenburg has gone after Bradley for those appointments in debates, arguing she advanced because of her political ties rather than her professional experience. Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Wisconsin has painted Kloppenburg as a biased liberal, noting her support for unions and her contributions to Democratic candidates.
Less outside money has been spent on the race so far compared to 2011, when Kloppenburg narrowly lost her challenge to conservative Justice David Prosser. Conservative groups spent about $2.2 million on Prosser and the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee spent about $1.4 million on TV ads.
In this race, the Greater Wisconsin Committee has spent about $265,000 so far on pro-Kloppenburg ads and the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform has spent about $1.2 million on TV ads to help Bradley, according to an analysis of Federal Communications Commission records by campaign watchdog group Justice at Stake.