State Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley said Tuesday that reaction to her college-era anti-gay writings sparked a change in attitude toward homosexuality that continued as she grew older.
Bradley’s comments in an interview with the Wisconsin State Journal came as the newspaper uncovered other controversial writings she made as a Marquette University student more than two decades ago. They include a defense of the school’s American Indian mascot and a comparison of abortion to the Holocaust and slavery.
“It’s difficult for me to pinpoint a particular person, or an experience, or something I went through because it’s really a composite of everything I’ve gone through in life and people I met along the way,” Bradley said in the interview to explain her change in attitudes toward homosexuality and people with AIDS. “I know a lot of people have gone through an evolution and a great change in thinking on issues that relates to homosexuality and gay marriage. It’s just something that happens over time as people educate themselves and interact with people who have different experiences.”
Today, Bradley said she “would be delighted” to preside over the wedding ceremony of a gay couple.
The justice — appointed to the high court by Gov. Scott Walker last fall — is locked in a tight race to retain her seat. Her opponent in the April 5 election is state Appeals Court Judge Joanne Kloppenburg.
Bradley on Tuesday expressed remorse for the anti-gay opinions she published in 1992 in the Marquette Tribune. Bradley, now 44, said she was about 20 years old at the time. On Monday, liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now released to reporters two letters to the editor and one column that included anti-gay rhetoric from Bradley.
A State Journal review of the Marquette Tribune archives from 1989 to 1993 also showed Bradley defended the university’s former Native American mascot and wrote a column comparing abortion to the Holocaust and to slavery of African-Americans.
But it was for the anti-gay opinions that Bradley apologized for on Tuesday and called the unearthing of her comments “mortifying.”
“It’s been very difficult for me personally. It’s extremely embarrassing to read the things that I wrote 24 years ago,” she said. “But I am concerned less with what I’m going through personally. I’m very much concerned about the people who are reading these words as if they are fresh.”
Bradley said her views at the time resulted from the life she had lived up until that point — but emphasized the published opinions did not reflect her family’s.
In the interview she declined to comment about her views on abortion because it is an issue that comes before the courts, but said she would follow existing law no matter what her personal views are.
In letters to the Marquette Tribune, Bradley called gay people “queers” and labeled people living with AIDS “degenerates.”
But the strongest reaction came in response to a column about the 1992 presidential election of Bill Clinton she had written under a previous name, Rebecca Grassl.
“One will be better off contracting AIDS than developing cancer, because those afflicted with the politically correct disease will be getting all of the funding,” she wrote in that column. “How sad that the lives of degenerate drug addicts and queers are valued more than the innocent victims of more prevalent ailments.”
The mostly negative reaction was so voluminous that the Marquette Tribune published a note nine days later saying it would no longer print response letters.
Bradley said she ceased writing columns for the Tribune likely because of lack of time, but said she couldn’t remember specifically why she stopped writing for the paper.
Meanwhile, Gov. Scott Walker on Tuesday said it’s “irrelevant” whether his appointment of Bradley would have been affected if he had known about inflammatory columns she wrote as a college student because voters will soon have a say.
Walker said Bradley’s 1992 columns did not reflect the thinking of young conservatives like himself at the time.
“The voters will decide come the primary in April and I think the contrast is pretty clear,” Walker said.
A spokeswoman for Walker, who appointed Bradley to three judicial positions in as many years — including the Supreme Court last fall — said Monday that “neither the governor nor our office was aware of the columns.”
Bradley said Tuesday in a WTMJ radio interview she didn’t disclose the writings in her application for the Supreme Court because the application process focused on her work as a lawyer and as a judge.
Walker also told reporters after a bill signing at Brown Deer High School that his vetting process for judges involves reviewing their legal opinions, columns they’ve written as a lawyer and any writings from law school, but not any writings as an undergraduate.
“I would challenge you to look back at any governor’s appointment process, and I doubt that you’ll find that every writing as a student is going to be brought up under any process,” Walker said. “At some point 20 years from now are we going to have the same questions about someone with a Tweet or a text or a Facebook post? It’s an interesting debate out there.”
On Tuesday, the president of the gay advocacy group Log Cabin Republicans of Wisconsin defended Bradley, saying what Bradley wrote 24 years ago did not reflect her current views.
“I have no fear the Justice Rebecca Bradley will do everything in her power to ensure a fair court hearing every time she sits down in her Supreme Court Justice robes,” Devin Gatton wrote on Facebook. Gatton also posted a photo of Bradley attending a fundraiser for LGBTQ advocacy group Fair Wisconsin.
But Fair Wisconsin executive director Megin McDonell said in a statement that attending “one election-season fundraiser while a candidate is not enough to convince me that Justice Bradley has experienced such a radical transformation in her views about the LGBT community and people living with HIV/AIDS.”
Democrats continued to blast Bradley on Tuesday. U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan of Madison, who is gay, said Bradley’s earlier apology Monday “appeared to be offered to dodge responsibility for an extremist, hateful worldview expressed multiple times in past public diatribes.”
Walker appointed Bradley, who is backed by conservatives, to the Supreme Court after the death of Justice N. Patrick Crooks in September. Kloppenburg is backed by liberals.
The State Journal reported Monday that Kloppenburg campaign manager Melissa Mulliken said Kloppenburg didn’t write any opinion columns in college.
The newspaper conducted a search of the online archive of the Yale Daily News that revealed no articles or opinion columns by Kloppenburg during her undergraduate career at Yale University. The UW-Madison Law School reference library found three articles that referenced her work in the Department of Justice.
Bradley attended the University of Wisconsin law school from 1993 through the spring of 1996. An Associated Press review of back issues of the Daily Cardinal, one of the university’s two campus newspapers, covering that span did not reveal any Bradley writings.
The Associated Press attempted to review back issues for the Badger Herald, the other campus newspaper, for that period but UW-Madison archivists said they were not available because the issues are archived only as microfilm negatives. An email left for the Badger Herald’s editor seeking access to the back issues wasn’t immediately returned.
According to the latest Marquette Law School Poll, each candidate has the support of 30 percent of those polled, while 31 percent remain undecided.