Open Letter to Justice Rebecca Bradley

Heart Mountain Camp

Heart Mountain Camp, the site of a World War II Japanese internment camp. Photo by Callen Harty.

Justice Bradley,

No, the stay-at-home order currently in effect is not like Japanese internment camps and there is no chance that it will be. Being asked to stay at home to protect yourself and other people is not the same as being ripped from your home and taken to a prison camp where you are not allowed to leave for any reason. Being furloughed due to the tough economy brought about by Covid-19 is not the same as losing your house and all your possessions. Not being allowed to shop or dine out for a while is not the same as being incarcerated because you are perceived to be an enemy combatant because of your heritage. Having to hear a court case over video while protecting yourself at home is not the same as losing your freedom and rights as a citizen because people are scared of your last name.

Your ignorance of history and your privilege are showing and it is not pretty.

And no, the governor and health secretary extending the stay-at-home order is not tyranny. Tyranny is Adolph Hitler killing 12 million people. It is the Chinese crackdown on Tiananmen Square. It is Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin, and others imprisoning and killing their own citizens. It is not a soft-spoken Wisconsin governor who is doing his best to keep people alive.

You ask, “where in the Constitution did the people of Wisconsin confer authority on a single unelected cabinet secretary to compel almost six million people to stay at home and close their businesses and face imprisonment if they don’t comply?” The answer is simple and you know it. It’s called representative government. The people gave the legislators they voted into office the authority to create laws for the benefit of all and those legislators created laws that allow this during a pandemic. If the Republican leadership doesn’t like the laws as they stand, they can draft their own legislation. It’s in the job description.

Wisconsin citizens also gave the State Supreme Court the power to decide Constitutional questions with the expectation that justices would be objective and not partisan hacks. Republicans have been saying for years that judges–every time those judges decide against them–are activist judges who try to create laws from the bench. Project much? The laws in this state are already clear on this issue. Overriding the stay-at-home orders would simply be the court overriding the will of the people through the acts of the legislature. It would be activist conservative judges creating laws from the bench.

There is little doubt that the decision that will be handed down soon will favor the Republican leadership that skipped lower courts and brought this case directly to you and your fellow conservatives on the bench. It was clear when the court agreed to hear the case instead of sending it to a lower court that the stay-at-home order would be overturned. I sincerely hope that doing so does not endanger anyone–including you and your loved ones–though anyone with an ounce of sense and the ability to understand basic science would not bet on it.

No, the governor and his health secretary will not be sending Wisconsin citizens to concentration camps. But it is very likely the Supreme Court will be sentencing countless Wisconsin citizens to death sentences.

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 (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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30 Responses to Open Letter to Justice Rebecca Bradley

  1. Kathleen Connolly says:

    Well said. Anyone who knows civics knows that to make the Supreme Court branch of our government, judges need o be independent of control by the legislative and executive branches. It is disheartening to see judges at the state and federal level who do not practice the core of their positions.

  2. deemax23 says:

    Well said!!

  3. TOM PODLESNY says:

    Worth reading twice.

  4. Fred A Corsmeier says:

    Tom Barnes makes a stronger case than does Callen Harty and presents his opinion in a respectful manner. We need more people of his type who are willing to disagree without being disagreeable.

    Fritz Corsmeier

  5. Stephanie says:

    Amazing letter! The only thing not mentioned is the video conference. If they’re so willing to risk our lives why are they not meeting in person? And why is this letter not being read on every news station? I’m hoping like crazy that people prove their unhappiness and vote to clean house in November.

  6. Mike Bor says:

    Thank you Callen. Well said. I do not believe that your critics have been watching the federal task force and their suggestions. And guess what party they are. Your critics must belong to a third party we are not yet aware of.

  7. OldJohn Wineke says:

    Finally! A sane discussion where no one resorted to name calling. Bravo!

  8. Craig says:

    I agree just more republican corruption!

  9. Paula says:

    Thank you for you well written letter. It was excellent and spot on.

  10. Susa Ristow Rindner says:

    Thank you Callen Harry, you speak for a strong majority whose will is being ignored by the minority in this state and in the White House and Senate. They will learn at the ballot box in a November. Unfortunately many sheep will have followed their lead and pay the price for it.

  11. Lou Schmitz says:

    Read history and stop politicizing the court.

  12. Rick Gleason says:

    Thank you, Mr. Harty, for that well-composed letter. The point where I struggle with some people’s thinking when it becomes all about “me” instead of “us” regarding the value of lives. If we are able to prevent loss of lives I feel that is what we need to do. I understand people are upset and scared about their financial future as we all are, but I cannot wrap my brain around opening everything back up and just counting those who die as “collateral damage”! These are mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, grandparents, citizens of this country, residents of the state of Wisconsin and many Veterans. Many of them sacrificed and fought for those rights and freedoms we so often take for granted. People believed their lives were done when the great depression hit in our country but look at us, we bounced back and we will again because we are far more advanced in technology and have so many resources available that people who lived through the depression did not have. I know many will disagree with my post and that’s OK. I won’t disrespect you and you don’t disrespect me. I am not ready to bury any of my family members even if it means losing everything I have, lives have a much greater value than anything material to me. I became a homelessness veteran after 2 enlistments to serve my country, I lost all possessions but my faith, my dignity, and my integrity went unchanged. I am a better person for the experience and through it I learned what is most valuable. We must be sensible…

  13. Alice G Williams says:

    Thank you, Mr. Harty, for eloquently stating what so many of us are thinking. Perhaps we should have a history test one has to pass before becoming a judge or elected official. Maybe then we could stop making inappropriate comparisons and instead learn from historical events that are actually relevant, like the 1918 pandemic.

  14. Gump Worsley says:

    Justice Bradley’s ahistorical rant is par for the course. It’s consistent with her self-indulgent writing style from the bench. It reminds me of Alexander Pope’s observation: “Such labored nothings, in so strange a style, Amaze th’ unlearn’d, and make the learned smile.”

  15. Tom Barnes says:

    I disagree on almost every point of the “open Letter”. While I may not be as eloquent in my grammar or as organized in my response , the important thing to remember here is that we are both just people with an opinion, nothing more and nothing less.

    The comparison of the “stay at home order” to the Japanese internment camps by Justice Bradley was not intended as an exact example of conditions but rather an example of overreach and abuse of power by our elected and unelected government officials. The primary point of the situation the court is being asked to review is did the actions of the unelected (and unconfirmed) political appointment office holder exceed her authority? The deliberate reference to the internment camps in “an open letter” is intended to distort the intent of the lawsuit and to distract the readers attention from the facts of the case. Apparently successful from some of the comments so far.

    We should be thanking the legislature for standing up for the basic rights of the people instead of blindly accepting the mandate of a political appointee who has almost single handedly crippled the states economy while apparently following a cookie cutter approach to addressing a manufactured crisis. The ridiculous “rules” (mandates) of the “stay at home” order are a clear violation of the constitution, are inconsistent and obviously not well thought out as evidenced by the list of permissible and non-permissible activities “allowed” by the order. Only those who choose NOT to see the inconsistency and hypocrisy of the ruling and rules would support what has been done “for our protection”.

    • Callen Harty says:

      As noted in the letter, the Constitution gives the Legislature the power to create laws. There are laws on the books that give the power to the health secretary to do what is necessary to protect the people during a health crisis. There are many people in positions of power in government who are unelected. Governors or Presidents who are elected by the people typically get to determine who they want in those positions.

    • David Wilson says:

      Tom, what part of the description don’t you understand about how a prior Wisconsin legislature explicitly created laws to permit this, and the current legislature can propose a law change if they think it isn’t a good law?

      This is how democracy is supposed to work: not every freaking last law has to be in the state constitution itself for the authority conferred to be valid. OMG do we need to put automobile speed limits in there too before you will accept them as valid?! if there is enough opposition to an existing law passed by a previous legislature and governor, you change it with a new law, you DON’T attempt to completely circumvent that established process by running to a partisan Supreme Court every time you don’t like a VALID law!

      It doesn’t matter what laws you personally disagree with, and it’s not reasonable or helpful for people to advocate overturning centuries fo precedent in order to get their way on that thing. Come on man, there’s a larger issue here, the integrity of our governmental process, and this should be Civics 101 stuff.

  16. Michael cherney says:

    Very well written however even though
    The action taken by our government is soft-spoken this is still Tierney !!
    each individual liberties should be cherished
    That is a republic our individual freedom the very thing we say that all Americans cherish most has been taken
    over a groups need to feel safe

    • Callen Harty says:

      I respectfully disagree, but appreciate your thoughts.

    • Claire M Kilian says:

      What “group” are you specifically referring to? All people? I hope that you never have to work in the hospitals that members of my family are holding hands of those who are dying. Of helping those who are recovering deal with the health consequences of this virus – lung lesions, kidney damage, blood clots. We have never had unrestricted freedom. It is not tyranny to use laws and duly elected officials to deal with this pandemic. It is called democracy.

    • Andrew Wilson says:

      Michael, what you describe is anarchy, not freedom. Just because we have laws or provisions, does not mean that we are not free. Nobody has taken anything away – people can still practice religion, just need to do it in a different way. People can still protest, practice freedom on speech; just in a different way. Not once during the order was any of that taken away – it just means we have to be smarter on how we exercise those rights. That’s call human and emotional intelligence in the ways we learn to adapt. And I think you meant tyranny.

    • Linda Aten says:

      “tyranny* Sir, if there is a law on the books that establishes the right to do this, then the legislators only alternative is to rewrite legislation to repel the law. The courts only job is to interpret the law not draft new legislation. This is what happened when Vos and Fitzgerald refused to put off the vote. They relied on existing legislation when appearing before the state Supreme court.

  17. tom simons says:

    Excellent Review- Sad but True. !!

  18. Sheila McGraw says:

    Spot on commentary. Thank you.

  19. Liz Whitlock says:


  20. Cherie Luke says:

    Well said! Thank you!

  21. Linda Osegard says:

    Thank you for putting into words so perfectly what needed saying.

  22. Joan Downs says:

    Thank you, Callen Harty!

  23. Debra L Norton says:

    Thank you for saying what I was thinking, so eloquently.

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