By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley will face Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley in a race that will determine whether the conservative majority on the state’s highest court will grow.
They were the only two candidates to file by Tuesday’s deadline for the race, ensuring there will be no primary before the April 7 election.
Bradley, the 20-year incumbent who is generally viewed as part of the liberal minority, launched her re-election campaign on Tuesday with a news conference at the Wausau County Courthouse. Daley, a decorated war veteran with 26-years’ experience on the court, is garnering support from conservatives as he takes on the difficult task of trying to defeat an incumbent.
Races for the state Supreme Court are officially nonpartisan, but they have broken down along party lines in recent years, with outside groups spending heavily to influence the conservative and liberal makeup of the court.
The race is the only statewide contest on the April 7 spring election ballot. Two state appeals court judges along with 63 circuit court judges will be elected across the state, along with dozens of school board members and other local offices.
A state Senate seat that was vacated by Republican Glenn Grothman after he was elected to Congress will also be filled. The district includes most of Washington, eastern Fond du Lac, northern Ozaukee, western Sheboygan, and southern Calumet counties.
Four Republicans — former state Rep. Duey Stroebel, Ozaukee County Board Chairman Lee Schlenvogt, Fred Utecht and Tiffany Koehler — filed to run for the seat. Koehler ran and lost for the Assembly last year. They will meet in a primary on Feb. 17, which will determine the winner of the race barring a write-in candidate.
Spring elections traditionally attract few voters and favor incumbents. Only five incumbent Supreme Court justices ever been defeated since the court was created in 1852. And of those, only two were elected. The most recent incumbent to lose, Louis Butler in 2008, was portrayed as a liberal and defeated by Michael Gableman, who was backed by conservatives.
Bradley is considered to be a liberal-leaning judge, frequently siding with Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson. Conservatives have a four-judge majority on the court, with Justice Patrick Crooks considered a swing vote.
The court’s private deliberations have gotten heated, most notably in 2011 when Justice David Prosser put his hands around Bradley’s neck during an argument over an opinion upholding Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s law effectively ending collective bargaining for public workers. Prosser said he was making a defensive move, but charges were brought against him alleging that he violated the judicial ethics code. Bradley and four other justices recused themselves from the case, leaving the court without a quorum to move forward.
Bradley, 64, said in a statement Tuesday that she’s committed to maintaining a non-partisan court “that is beholden to no special interest group large or small.”
“The people of Wisconsin deserve a justice who is tough, fair, and independent, with a proven track record of standing up for them,” Bradley said. “That’s exactly the kind of justice I’ve been for two decades.”
Daley, 67, was appointed to the circuit court in 1989 by Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson. He previously served four years as Rock County district attorney and has nearly 40 years of military service, including three years in the Marine Corps where he earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star while serving in Vietnam.
“I look forward to a campaign which highlights the differences between my judicial philosophy and my opponent’s,” Daley said in a statement.
Justices serve 10-year terms on the seven-member Supreme Court. Bradley was first elected in 1995 and re-elected in 2005.Follow @sbauerAP