Earlier this week One Wisconsin Now, in a press conference with People for the American Way, released quotations from a column and two editorials written by Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley. They were written when she was a student at Marquette University in Milwaukee and expressed strongly held negative beliefs about LGBT people, drug addicts, AIDS, and the election of Bill Clinton as President of the United States.
The next day the Capital Times ran an article with quotations from another article that expressed strongly held anti-abortion views, along with snippets from a later article she wrote less than ten years ago in which she expressed her belief that pharmacists should be allowed not to fulfill prescriptions for moral reasons. The language was not as venomous in the abortion articles, but was just as strident.
This is the language of a person who has incredibly strong personal opinions that do not match the majority of the voting public and who may cast deciding Supreme Court votes on important issues around all of those topics. Calling gay people queers and AIDS patients degenerates is not the kind of language one might expect for a woman appointed to fill the remainder of a Supreme Court justice’s term, nor the language of a woman running for election to that seat. It is not the kind of language most of us find acceptable in either an appointed or elected officeholder.
Bradley’s supporters claim that the articles were written when she was 20 and that people change. They are correct. People do, or at least can change, but there is no indication that Bradley has done so in the time that has passed since the articles were written and she will not respond to any questions that would give voters an idea of where she stands on LGBT rights or abortion. Voters do know where Scott Walker stands on these issues, though, and the fact that he appointed her to fill the remainder of Patrick Crook’s term is telling.
Most of us change and grow in our lives–though there are those who remain morally stunted throughout–but most of us do not start from a place of vitriol and hatred, and Bradley’s words are definitely filled with vitriol and hatred. Haters tend to remain haters. Conversely, lovers tend to remain lovers. Bullies tend to continue bullying. Peaceful people tend to continue living a life of peace. Those who detest gay people tend to hold onto those feelings. This doesn’t mean that change can’t happen to anyone, but that kind of significant shift is rare. Most of us remain true to our core selves. It is difficult to believe that Bradley’s core values and beliefs, as expressed in those articles, has changed in the intervening years.
One has to ask not whether one can forgive her for her words, but whether they should be forgotten. They seem to be a reflection of her nature and character and without any evidence to suggest that there has been a monumental shift in her thinking one has to wonder whether she can be an impartial jurist. This is not to pretend that there is such a thing as a completely objective judge. The word itself suggests subjectivity. But most judges are careful not to express extreme positions about anything. They may lean one way or another, but the best of them try to set aside their personal viewpoints and look at the underlying Constitutional issues, not their own underlying moral convictions. It seems difficult to believe that someone whose views are as extreme as those that Bradley expressed in her youth could be an impartial judge on those issues. She may not resign as One Wisconsin Now has asked her to do, but the citizens of the state are naïve if they vote her into the position for the next ten years.