By Patrick Marley
State Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley was elected to a 10-year term Tuesday, overcoming a challenge from Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg and keeping the job Gov. Scott Walker appointed her to in the fall.
Boosted by heavy turnout in the Republican presidential primary, Bradley overcame criticism that dominated headlines for days about her college writings calling gays "queers," comparing abortion to slavery and dubbing voters as stupid or evil for electing Bill Clinton president in 1992.
Bradley quoted British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in thanking her supporters at the Crowne Plaza in Wauwatosa: "When you're going through hell, keep going."
She ended her speech with another of Churchill's sayings: "There is nothing more exhilarating than being shot at without result."
She thanked law enforcement generally and Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. specifically, as well as others who helped her campaign, such as Appeals Court Judge Brian Hagedorn. She said Kloppenburg was gracious after a hard-fought race.
Bradley's win preserves conservatives' 5-2 control of the Supreme Court.
With 88% of precincts reporting as of 11:30 p.m., Bradley had 53% and Kloppenburg had 47%.
Kloppenburg thanked her supporters at the Brink Lounge in Madison and told them she had called Bradley to concede. She urged her backers to not lose perspective or their determination to work for a fair and just court system that is not ruled by partisan politics.
"Our courts cannot, ought not and must not be places where might makes right," Kloppenburg said. "Change is inevitable but progress is not. In order to move forward, we must continue to fight for the principles embedded in our Constitution."
The race was a high-spending affair. Campaign finance reports showed, as of March 21, Bradley had raised about $798,000 and Kloppenburg about $717,000, including $157,000 she lent her campaign. Both campaigns said they'd each taken in another $100,000 since those reports were filed.
Bradley benefited from about $3 million in spending by the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform and about $114,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee. Kloppenburg saw help from about $700,000 in spending by the Greater Wisconsin Committee.
Walker appointed Bradley to the high court in October to finish the term of Justice N. Patrick Crooks, who died a month earlier. It was the third appointment he had given her in as many years, after putting her on the Milwaukee County Circuit Court in 2012 and the District 1 Court of Appeals in May 2015.
Kloppenburg first ran for the Supreme Court in 2011, losing to conservative Justice David Prosser. She won a seat a year later on the Madison-based District 4 Court of Appeals.
Bradley and Kloppenburg declined to discuss their views on key court decisions, but gave signs showing that Bradley lines up with conservatives and Kloppenburg with liberals.
Bradley emphasized the need to set personal feelings aside in deciding cases. Kloppenburg agreed with that view, but said life experiences inform how judges do their work and stressed the importance of an independent, nonpartisan judiciary.
The two gave contrasting answers when asked what they considered some of the best and worst U.S. Supreme Court decisions of recent decades. Bradley cited as one of the best a ruling allowing a Christian club to use public school facilities after hours and one of the worst a ruling allowing the government to force property owners to sell real estate for private development.
As for what she considers some of the best decisions, Kloppenburg called it an "exhilarating week" last year when the U.S. Supreme Court issued decisions allowing same-sex marriage, upholding the Affordable Care Act and keeping in place a fair housing law.
During the campaign, Bradley faced criticism for columns and letters to the editor she wrote 24 years ago that were critical of gays and referred to AIDS patients as "degenerates who basically commit suicide through their behavior."
She repeatedly apologized for those writings, saying her views had changed in the years since. She would not say whether she stood behind other writings, such as those likening abortion to the Holocaust.
She faced questions over her work as a lawyer on one case. In 2004, Bradley represented in a child placement case the former chief operating officer of the law firm where they had both worked, whom she said she was dating on a nonexclusive basis and whom she formerly believed she might marry.
Lawyers for the ex-wife and child sought to disqualify her from the case because of her close relationship to him and his child. A judge allowed her to remain on the case, but one expert on legal ethics said last month she had "brought into the case baggage that another lawyer wouldn't have had."
For her part, Kloppenburg took criticism for her decision to remain on a case involving a group that spent heavily against her, despite her repeated calls to toughen ethics rules for judges.
She opposes those rules because they say political spending on its own isn't enough to force judges off cases.
But in 2014, Kloppenburg remained on a case as an appeals judge involving the Wisconsin Club for Growth, which spent against her in her 2011 run for the Supreme Court.
Jason Stein contributed to this report from Madison and John Fauber from Wauwatosa.
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