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Wisconsin Justice Wins Election Despite Past Antigay Statements

Rebecca Bradley and JoAnne Kloppenburg
From left: Rebecca Bradley and JoAnne Kloppenburg

Rebecca Bradley won election to a full term on the state Supreme Court despite publicity about antigay comments she made in her college newspaper in the 1990s.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley, who became the subject of controversy because of antigay statements she made in a college newspapert two decades ago, has been elected to a full term on the court.

In Tuesday's election, Bradley bested JoAnne Kloppenburg, a Wisconsin Court of Appeals Judge who has a reputation as an LGBT ally. With 88 percent of precincts reporting as of 11:30 p.m. Central time, Bradley had 53 percent of the vote and Kloppenburg 47 percent, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

The judicial election is officially nonpartisan, but Bradley has close ties to Republicans, including Gov. Scott Walker. He appointed Bradley to the high court last October to finish the term of a justice who had died, so this was the first time she stood for election. Wisconsin elects Supreme Court justices to staggered 10-year terms.

She benefited from heavy voter turnout for the Republican presidential primary in the state, the Journal Sentinel notes. The judicial election was not a primary but the final vote for the court seat. It maintains conservatives' 5-2 majority on the court, the paper reports.

In March, liberal groups One Wisconsin Now and People for the American Way distributed copies of a column and letters to the editor by Bradley that were published in Marquette University's Tribune in 1992, while she was a Marquette student. Statements in the pieces included the following:

"Perhaps AIDS Awareness [a campus group] should seek to educate us with their misdirected compassion for the degenerates who basically commit suicide through their behavior."

"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. How sad that the lives of degenerate drug addicts and queers are valued more than the innocent victims of more prevalent ailments."

"The homosexuals and drug addicts who do essentially kill themselves and others through their own behavior deservedly receive none of my sympathy."

"Why is a student government on a Catholic campus attempting to bring legitimacy to an abnormal sexual preference?"

And on the election of President Bill Clinton: "We have now elected a tree-hugging, baby-killing, pot-smoking, flag-burning, queer-loving, bull-spouting '60s radical socialist adulterer to the highest office in our nation. ... We've just had an election which proves the majority of voters are either totally stupid or entirely evil."

Officials with the groups said such rhetoric showed Bradley was unfit to be a Supreme Court justice. More recently, Bradley drew criticism from the likes of Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

At an event in Milwaukee Saturday night, Clinton said, "There is no place on any Supreme Court or any court in this country, no place at all for Rebecca Bradley's decades-long track record of dangerous rhetoric against women, survivors of sexual assault and the LGBT community," according to the Journal Sentinel.In addition to her antigay comments, Bradley had once said women bore some responsibility for date rape.

Sanders, at a rally in Madison the following night, said Bradley is "a justice who should not stay on the Supreme Court."

When her student writings first surfaced in March, Bradley apologized for them and said they did not reflect her current worldview. Leading up to the election, she said she hoped that voters would focus on her experience and qualifications rather than on things she wrote 24 years ago. She had also received criticism for some of her actions as a lawyer and judge.

At her victory rally Tuesday night in Waukesha, she quoted two sayings from Winston Churchill, the Journal Sentinel reports. She said she learned, "When you're going through hell, keep going." And she concluded with "There is nothing more exhilarating than being shot at without result."

Kloppenburg, speaking to supporters in Madison, told them to keep on working for a fai, just court system that is free of partisan politics, according to the Milwaukee paper. "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."

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