(In) Justice Bradley

Wisconsin Constitution in ShadowEarlier 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.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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