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Partisan Control of Court at Stake With Wisconsin Justice's Retirement

State Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley won’t run for re-election in 2025, giving conservatives a better shot at regaining their majority. Bradley was first elected to the court in 1995.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley waves to the crowd
Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley waves to the crowd during the inauguration ceremony at the Wisconsin State Capitol on Jan. 7, 2019. Photo by Emily Hamer/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. CC BY-ND 2.0
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley announced Thursday morning she won’t be running for a fourth 10-year term on the bench. The announcement sets up a race for an open seat on the Court, giving conservatives a better shot at regaining their majority after liberals gained control for the first time in 15 years in 2023.

First elected to the Court in 1995, the 73-year-old Bradley spent much of her time on the bench writing dissents in majority decisions by the conservative controlled Court to uphold limits on public labor unions, approve the state’s voter ID laws and approve Republican legislative efforts to limit the power of elected Democrats.

“It has been an honor of a lifetime to serve the people of this state and to know that when I am sitting down at the bench, I am standing up for them,” Bradley said in a statement. “I believe strongly in the rule of law, the foundational principles of our democracy and a judicial system that advances access to justice for all. It is my life’s work. My professional life has embraced a steadfast commitment to those ideals and I will continue that commitment. However, it will take a different path in the future.”

The Supreme Court race last year, which was won handily by Justice Janet Protasiewicz over former Justice Dan Kelly, broke national records for campaign spending. In recent years, the Court has been dominated by narrow 4-3 decisions — including cases to affirm President Joe Biden’s election victory in 2020, declare absentee ballot drop boxes illegal and strike down the Republican gerrymander of the state’s political maps. The Court is also expected to soon determine the legality of abortion in the state.

Bradley won her last re-election campaign by 16 points, yet with the Court’s increasing importance in deciding statewide issues in a state with divided government, the 2025 race is likely to be contentious. Waukesha County Judge Brad Schimel, a former Republican state attorney general, has already announced a run for the seat.

“From the beginning of my campaign, I made it clear that I’m not just running against one person, I’m running against the Court’s leftist majority,” Schimel said in a statement. “I wish Justice Ann Walsh Bradley well in retirement after decades of public service. I look forward to continuing the fight to bring integrity and respect for the Constitution back to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin.”

In her statement, Bradley said that if she were to run, she believes she’d win, but that it’s time to allow a new generation to decide the state’s legal questions.

“I know I can do the job and do it well,” she said. “I know I can win re-election, should I run. But, it’s just time to pass the torch, bringing fresh perspectives to the court.”

Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler said in a statement after Bradley’s announcement that she is a “giant on the Wisconsin Supreme Court” who has played a major role in democracy “seeing a new day in Wisconsin.” He also said that he believes the recent success liberal Supreme Court candidates have enjoyed will continue.

“Wisconsinites have sent a resounding message in the last two Supreme Court elections that they want justices shaped in the mold of Ann Walsh Bradley,” he said. “Even without her name on the ballot next April, we are confident that the vision and tradition embodied by Justice Bradley will continue on the Court and prevail at the ballot box, and we are committed to fighting off any extremist attempts to retake this seat. We are deeply grateful for Justice Bradley’s many years of dedicated service to our state, and wish her the best in her well-earned retirement.”

This article was first published by the Wisconsin Examiner. It was republished under Creative Commons license.
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