Wisconsin's two state Supreme Court candidates are presenting themselves as independent judges who will leave their policy preferences at the door. And they're each arguing that the other is not.
"Both candidates are telling you they will be independent and impartial on the court," said Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg on Wednesday. "The challenge for voters is to determine who will deliver on that promise."
Kloppenburg and Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley faced off in a candidate forum hosted by the Milwaukee Bar Association, discussing judicial philosophy, attack ads, politics and previous decisions.
Kloppenburg argued voters can determine which judge would truly be impartial "by how we got where we are," taking a swipe at Bradley for having been appointed by Gov. Scott Walker to three judgeships in three years. Kloppenburg suggested it was "politics, not qualifications," that put Bradley on the court.
There's nothing wrong with being appointed, Bradley said, countering that Walker was only fulfilling his constitutional obligation to fill vacancies on the courts.
"If the people of Wisconsin want to govern themselves through their elected representatives and Legislature they will elect me," Bradley said. "If people instead want to be dictated to and want to be ruled by a majority of justices that happen to sit on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, they will elect Judge Kloppenburg."
On a few areas, the candidates agreed. They both said a judge should disclose the reasons for removing oneself from a case, except in situations where doing so could breach a confidentiality agreement or compromise the case itself.
But the two split on whether it is OK to leave oral arguments early in order to attend a political event, as Bradley did last month to give a speech to the state's largest business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.
Bradley said she, like her colleagues, avoids leaving early if at all possible, but sometimes there are unavoidable conflicts. In the case in question, she said, she waited until all of her questions had been answered, then watched the rest of the arguments on video later.
"There’s nothing routine about leaving oral arguments, in this case 23 minutes early," Kloppenburg said, to which Bradley responded, "That's not true."
Bradley's campaign has said she missed about 15 minutes of arguments.
The candidates were also asked to explain which U.S. Supreme Court justices they identify with the most, from a judicial philosophy perspective.
Bradley selected Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas along with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whose philosophies she said mirror hers: "It is the job of justices to say what the law is and not what we may wish it to be."
Kloppenbug said she aligns most with Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in part because they are "trailblazers" for women pursuing legal careers and in part because they believe in "protecting individual rights and promoting a more equal society."
Kloppenburg also named Justice Anthony Kennedy, citing his ability to form coalitions on the court.