Wisconsin Justice

Kloppenburg sign. Photo by Callen Harty.

Kloppenburg sign. Photo by Callen Harty.

Inexperienced, unqualified, bigoted, highly partisan, and beholden to rich supporters. This is Wisconsin justice in 2016.

As a gay man, as a citizen of this once-great state, as a person whose family has lived here since 1827, I am so far beyond disheartened and disillusioned that it is immeasurable. The pain runs deeper than the valleys of my ancestral home in southwestern Wisconsin. This is not the Wisconsin I have always loved so much. I weep for what we have become.

This is the summation of Rebecca Bradley: She is a right-wing corporate shill with extremely conservative views who was fast-tracked in her career by an admiring Governor Scott Walker. And I’m guessing he expects the admiration to be mutual when there are important cases before the bench, as will all of those who poured huge amounts of money into the campaign on her behalf.

Bradley was appointed by Walker to the Wisconsin Supreme Court after Justice Patrick Crooks unexpectedly passed away in his chambers. She served on the Supreme Court for only half a year before winning election to the position in the just-concluded spring election. Her appointment to the highest court was just five months after Walker had appointed her to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and that appointment was a mere three years after he had first made her a judge by appointing her to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court in 2012.  Their friendship goes back years. Her experience as a jurist does not. Four short years as a judge and now she is set to begin a 10-year elected term to the top court in the state.

Admittedly, there are only two qualifications to run for the Supreme Court in Wisconsin: one has to be licensed to practice law in Wisconsin for at least five years and must be less than 70 years old. That’s it. Usually the citizens of the state will want to know that those sitting on the highest court have a good understanding of the law and the Constitution and that their experience lends itself to that. They also generally want to make sure that the candidate is non-partisan and can remain objective and set aside their personal opinions to weigh the merits of a case against the Constitution and precedent. Bradley’s lack of experience is not what is most bothersome; it is her ability (or likely inability) to be non-partisan.

Forgive me if I didn’t swallow her supporters’ proclamations about how everyone can change and that the vitriolic, anti-Democrat, anti-women, victim blaming, and homophobic rants that she wrote in college were not representative of who she is now. Yes, people can change. Many do, but I’m betting that most of the people who would have called me a queer or a faggot twenty years ago would still call me that now–maybe just not as loudly. If Bradley had changed from those college views the likelihood is that Wisconsin Right to Life, Wisconsin Club for Growth, and the other right-wing, ultra-conservative organizations and individuals that supported her candidacy would not have done so. There was virtually nothing that she did or said in the last twenty years to indicate that she had changed.

Wisconsin was the first state in the union to pass a gay rights law, back in 1982. It guaranteed lesbian and gay citizens protection against discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. We now have a Supreme Court Justice who has called people like me queers and degenerates, who has said that those who suffered and died from AIDS more or less deserved it by committing suicide with their degenerate behavior, who compared abortion to slavery and the Holocaust, and who aligned herself with Camille Paglia and the idea that rape victims are responsible for their own rapes. She also believes pharmacists have the right to refuse to fill prescriptions for moral reasons and she believes in the concept of personhood, meaning that life begins at conception, which could effectively make abortion and even contraception illegal.

What’s shocking is not that there are people out there who hold these views, but that enough of my fellow Wisconsinites support such rhetoric and would vote for this kind of person. What’s shocking is that I know people who had heard or read about these things and still voted for Bradley. What’s amazing is that outside groups created misleading and dishonest advertising, commercials that pretty much proclaimed that Joanne Kloppenburg was a lover of pedophiles and cared more for them than the child victims of sexual abuse, and that people believed those ads. They were the most disgusting and dishonest political commercials I’ve ever seen. They were so vile that they made the old Willie Horton ads look like amateur hour, a little dusting of dirt in the mud of the political season. Of course, they worked and the candidate that they were meant to support never stepped up and disavowed them. As a candidate for the Supreme Court she should have made it clear that her campaign did not create, support, or condone those ads. That might have made me believe she had changed.

Again, this is not the Wisconsin I have always loved.

Today I am filled with sorrow that my fellow citizens would put this person in office to make important decisions on the constitutionality of abortion, LGBT rights, corporate rights, and more. I am also in fear that along with the other three conservative Justices in the majority that Bradley will continue to eliminate all the progress that we have made as a human race and continue to lead us back to the 1950s and beyond, when women were kept barefoot and pregnant, gays were kept in the closet, and everyone was beholden to their bosses and corporate overlords. This is not the Wisconsin I believe in or one in which I want to live.

Today I weep for my state. Tomorrow, maybe tomorrow, I’ll get back up and be ready to fight again.

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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1 Response to Wisconsin Justice

  1. Logan says:

    I strongly agree with your assessment of Bradley and of the state.

    Shame on us, but with Koch and their well financed astroturf groups now calling the shots in WI we cannot expect anything else. I seriously regret moving here from Oregon; however, as a supporter of a women’s choice and as a hated liberal living out among the polluting big-ag farmers, I am in the boat with you.

    Grab and oar and paddle hard, as in this moneyed political climate it will take all of the thrust we can muster just to stay in place.

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