State Supreme Court candidates Rebecca Bradley and JoAnne Kloppenburg clashed Wednesday over who would let their personal political beliefs or connections cloud their ability to fairly interpret the law.
The two met at a Milwaukee Bar Association forum — their first meeting after revelations this week of Bradley’s controversial college-era writings, including a new one Wednesday in which she supported a scholar’s suggestion that women could be partially responsible for date rape.
For the third day in a row, Bradley apologized for making anti-gay comments in opinions written in 1992 and published in the Marquette University student newspaper. She said her worldview had changed in 24 years after listening “to people who have experienced terrible prejudices and unfairness in their lives.”
“You realize how wrong you might have been when you thought you knew everything at the age of 20,” Bradley said at the forum.
But Kloppenburg rejected Bradley’s claim that she had changed her views.
“Justice Bradley talks about change and talks about this being, ‘now is now, then was then,’ but her career does not show much evidence of changes,” Kloppenburg said, citing Bradley’s involvement in the conservative Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies and the Republican National Lawyers Association.
Bradley shot back saying she upholds the law regardless of her personal views, and said Kloppenburg espouses a judicial philosophy that aims to inject her personal preferences on public policy into her decision-making as a judge.
“She has explained this by saying she thinks it is our job as judges to promote a more equal society,” said Bradley. “That’s a very nice sentiment but I’m not sure what that means because somebody’s idea — one judge’s idea — of what is promoting an equal society can vary greatly from the next judge’s idea.”
The forum took place after the unearthing of controversial opinion pieces Bradley wrote while in college. Most of the examples were released this week by liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now. The Wisconsin State Journal uncovered other controversial writings in a review of the Marquette Tribune, a student newspaper.
Bradley apologized in an interview with the State Journal for anti-gay letters and a column that One Wisconsin Now released Monday. She said those opinions no longer reflect her current views.
Bradley, a current justice appointed to the high court last fall by Gov. Scott Walker, and Kloppenburg, an appeals court judge, are facing off in the April 5 election. The position is nonpartisan, but Bradley is backed by conservatives while Kloppenburg is supported by liberals.
Role in date rape
The new Bradley column that OWN revealed Wednesday denounced the rise of feminism. In it Bradley wrote that scholar Camille Paglia “legitimately suggested that women play a role in date rape.”
Bradley wrote the column, “Awaiting feminism’s demise,” in 1992 for the Marquette Journal, a student-run magazine. In it, she argued that the feminist movement had gone too far and was “largely composed of angry, militant, man-hating lesbians who abhor the traditional family.”
In the column on feminism, first reported by The Capital Times, Bradley wrote that Paglia had been banned from speaking at several colleges after “legitimately” suggesting women play a role in date rape.
In a 1991 column in Newsday, Paglia argued society had stopped punishing rape properly and feminism had erroneously taught women they could “do anything, go anywhere, say anything, wear anything.” She said women “will always be in sexual danger” and should avoid getting drunk and being alone with men to prevent being raped.
“A woman going to a fraternity party is walking into Testosterone Flats, full of prickly cacti and blazing guns,” Paglia wrote. “If she goes, she should be armed with resolute alertness. She should arrive with girlfriends and leave with them. A girl who lets herself get dead drunk at a fraternity party is a fool. A girl who goes upstairs alone with a brother at a fraternity party is an idiot. Feminists call this ‘blaming the victim.’ I call it common sense.
“The only solution to date rape is female self-awareness and self-control. A woman’s No. 1 line of defense against rape is herself.”
A spokesman for Bradley’s campaign did not respond to a request for an interview or comment. Bradley was not asked about the magazine column at the forum.
One Wisconsin Now research director Jenni Dye said in a statement that Bradley’s 1992 comments disqualify her from being a Supreme Court justice.
“It is abhorrent to blame the victim of a sexual assault, whatever the circumstances,” Dye said.
At the forum, Bradley and Kloppenburg agreed on a number of issues, including the fact that there are certain situations that make it appropriate for a justice to not reveal reasons for which they recuse themselves from cases. If the justice had previously been involved in a case before the Supreme Court as a trial attorney, for example, it would make sense to recuse but not reveal why because of attorney-client privilege.
The two disagreed on whether a justice should leave the bench during the oral arguments of a case, however.
On Feb. 24, Bradley left oral arguments to speak at an event hosted by business lobby Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. The WMC has spent millions on Supreme Court races, typically on conservatives.
Bradley said it’s common for justices to leave due to scheduling conflicts and said she didn’t leave until her questions were answered and that she watched video of what she missed.
But Kloppenburg said it is inappropriate for a justice to leave to attend an event that could benefit his or her campaign.