WAUWATOSA — Justice Rebecca Bradley was elected Tuesday to a 10-year seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, defeating state Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg in a bitter, highly charged race.
With 98 percent of precincts reporting, Bradley held a decisive lead over Kloppenburg, who made her second unsuccessful run for a seat on the state’s highest court.
Bradley told supporters at a election night party in Wauwatosa that she drew strength during the campaign from her fiance who, during tough moments of the spring campaign, quoted Winston Churchill.
“When you’re going through hell, keep going,” she said. Bradley also congratulated Kloppenburg for a “hard-fought campaign.”
Kloppenburg conceded defeat to a small gathering at The Brink Lounge in Madison after calling Bradley to congratulate her.
“Although I lost this race, I will never lose sight of the promise of the American system of justice,” she said, with her husband and three children standing behind her.
Thanking her supporters, Kloppenburg said, “We ran a campaign that was fair, truthful and respectful. We did all that we set out to do -- except for the coming-out-ahead part. It is not the outcome that you and I hoped for, not the outcome we worked so hard for, but it is the outcome of the democratic process.”
Bradley, 44, appointed to her seat last fall by Gov. Scott Walker, is seeking the job permanently. Kloppenburg. 62, is making her second run for the Supreme Court after losing a narrow race to Justice David Prosser in 2011.
The race, officially nonpartisan but typically -- like the court itself -- split along ideological lines, has been marked by millions of dollars in television ad spending, most of it from the conservative group Wisconsin Alliance for Reform in seeking to help Bradley’s candidacy.
It has also featured:
- Pitched debate over Walker’s role in appointing Bradley to the court -- the third time in three years the governor placed Bradley in a judicial role.
- Questions about Kloppenburg’s ties to liberals -- presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both advocated a vote for her.
- And criticism over Bradley’s 1992 college-era writings in which she called AIDS patients and homosexuals degenerates, compared abortion to the Holocaust and slavery, and wrote that an author legitimately suggested women play a role in date rape. Bradley has repeatedly apologized for what she wrote about AIDS patients and homosexuals as a Marquette University student.
Bradley also cited Churchill in saying, “There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at with no result.”
Both candidates said during the campaign that they would fairly and equally apply the law. But Bradley aligned herself with a more conservative interpretation of legal theory while liberals were lining up being Kloppenburg.
With the Supreme Court election falling on the same day as the state’s presidential primary, Democratic presidential candidates used campaign stops as opportunities to urge their supporters to vote against Bradley.
At Bradley’s election night party, Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said she thinks Bradley would have faced a tougher race if the presidential primary had not bolstered turnout on the Republican side.
“For an ordinary spring race, she would have had a tougher time because the special interests were so determined to take her out,” said Darling, referring to the unearthing of opinion columns Bradley wrote as a college student by liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now.
Kloppenburg’s campaign manager, Melissa Mulliken said the higher turnout for the Republican presidential primary probably worked against Kloppenburg.
This was Kloppenburg’s second try for a high court seat. In 2011, she challenged incumbent David Prosser and lost a close race, with 49.7 percent of the vote.
Mulliken said she doesn’t know of any plan for Kloppenburg to run again for the state Supreme Court. But, she added, “Never say never.”
Bradley spent most of her career as a private-sector lawyer handling business and other civil cases. Walker first named her to the circuit court in Milwaukee three years ago, and then to the state appeals court.
When Walker appointed Bradley to the state Supreme Court last fall after the death of N. Patrick Crooks, critics said it would give her an unfair advantage in the race for the permanent seat. She was already a candidate at the time of the appointment.
Kloppenburg has spent most of her time in the public arena as an assistant attorney general and doing environmental work and has been a state appeals court judge for three years.
Kloppenburg told her supporters she looks forward to continuing to serve on the appeals court.
“The campaign may be over but our commitment to make the courts better isn’t done,” she said.