An interview with Justice Bradley
Justice Ann Walsh Bradley spoke lightly, a smile on her face, with the wise air of a teacher. Not surprising, since before spending twenty years on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, ten in circuit court and several more in private practice, Bradley was a high school teacher.
It was a long and inspiring journey from a high school teacher in LaCrosse to the state Supreme Court, and now Bradley is on the campaign trail once again, travelling throughout the state seeking her third ten-year term.
Rhinelander became a stop on her journey, with an event at Rhinelander Café & Pub Feb. 21.
“Rhinelander is what I would call ‘my neck of the woods.’ I live in Wausau, I have family that work in Rhinelander,” Bradley said. “We have a lot of relatives in this area. So coming to Rhinelander is like coming to my backyard, so to speak.”
Her platform is one of bipartisan cooperation and a policy of what she calls “judicial restraint,” a brand she is promoting on a statewide tour leading up to election day on April 7.
“I have, I think, a proven track record. I served the people of this state for twenty years. I care deeply about this state,” Bradly said. “I come from southwest Wisconsin, my hometown is Richland Center, and in that kind of environment, much like in Rhinelander and this area, you have values, values of family, of fairness, of hard work, and also service to others. People should know that those are the values, not only that I learned in my hometown growing up, but the values that I really strongly believe in now, that I’ve brought with me as I serve on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.”
“My judicial philosophy is one of judicial restraint—what I embrace, and I have embraced for the twenty years that I’ve been on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, is a philosophy that’s built on the importance of precedent. I believe, and I believe strongly, that courts have to be instiutions of predictability and stability. People have to know what the law is so they can conform their lives to certain standards. You don’t want courts that change the law just because you have a different personnel on the court… I don’t think the courts are to acquiesce to anyone; we have to stand up for the people of the state and stand up for the constitution.”
AMENDMENT TO CHIEF JUSTICE SELECTION
“The constitutional referendum that will be on the ballot asks if we should change the way we select our chief justice. Change it to a way that a majority of the court selects the chief justice rather than seniority. It’s been seniority for I think 126 years in this state. A long time. This is what I think about that— I think any process has its strengths and weaknesses. And they’re all debateable. But I’ll tell you what’s not debateable: what’s not debateable is that you don’t use the constitution as a tool for political payback. This constitutional amendment is targeted at chief justice Shirley Abrahams. And our constitution, as I see it, is a sacred document. This isn’t what constitutional amendments are for, to target a person, that’s so shortsighted.”
BALANCE ON THE COURT
“I think that balance on the court is so important. That’s why there are seven justices. Our constitution provides for seven justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court so that there’s a diversity of opinion… Sometimes I say that if in a seven member court all seven justices saw things alike and spoke with only one voice, then six of the seven are being overpayed. And I mean that… We have only the trust and confidence of the people that give us our legitimacy. And if over half, or if half the people in the state see a supreme court where their voice is not heard, where their view is not even seen, that undermines the public trust and confidence of the people. So that’s why it’s so vitally important to have balance on the court.
REGULATIONS ON RECUSAL
“I’m a firm believer that we need what we call ‘the objective standard’ for recusal. And most other states have an objective standard, Wisconsin apparently, it’s being left up to the individual justice… I believe that we went in the wrong direction, and changed our recusal rules so that campaigns could even solicit parties for contributions… Let me tell you what I’ve done, because I think recusal is a very important issue. I’ve gone well beyond what’s required by our recusal rules. In my campaign, I have indicated that I should not take contributions from any group that is appearing in a case before me. So contrary to our rules, which say not only can you take them, you can solicit them, you can ask for them, I won’t accept them… If we become aware of it, and we try to moniter that as best we can. We have returned some contributions already. That’s what we’ve done, it’s important to try to sit on all cases that I can, and so as I said I’ve gone I think above and beyond what’s required by our rules, but it’s what I believe is appropriate.
ON TERM LIMITS
“Undermining the will of the voters is not a good idea. I think that justices are elected for ten year terms, and to undermine or to nullify, do away with the voters’ decision—I’m travelling around the state, campaigning, I’m putting my trust in the voters, and I think the legislators should also.”
“One of the goals is to make sure that we enhance public trust and confidence, that is my goal. If you want to know what I am about, and what I’ve dedicated thirty years to the judiciary to, is enhancing the public trust and the confidence of the people. Things I’ve done in the past I will continue to do in the future, but perhaps with even greater vigor. In my campaign, for instance, I have put a strong emphasis on bipartisan support. I think it’s wrong to infuse or inject partisan politics into the judiciary. With partisan politics comes an agenda. And people want judges with no agendas, they want judges who are fair, impartial, who will give them a fair shake… I think the people of this state want a court that’s focusing on administering a system of justice in this state, focusing on making the tough decisions and some of the complex cases that we have.