Bradley, Kloppenburg to square off for Supreme Court
Wisconsin voters advanced an incumbent Supreme Court justice and a Court of Appeals judge to an April showdown for a 10-year term on the state’s highest court, a contest likely to play out along ideological lines after a sharply partisan primary.
Rebecca Bradley, who has served on the court since Gov. Scott Walker appointed her to fill a vacancy the fall, and JoAnne Kloppenburg, a Court of Appeals judge, easily outpolled Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald in Tuesday’s primary. Bradley finished with 45 percent, or 251,823 votes, to Kloppenburg’s 43 percent, or 243,190 votes. Bradley had 12 percent.
During the primary campaign, Bradley was widely seen as the conservative choice. Her October appointment to finish the term of the late Patrick Crooks was the third time Walker, a Republican, had appointed Bradley to a judgeship in the past three years.
Kloppenburg, a former Peace Corps volunteer, was seen as the more liberal candidate, just as she was in an unsuccessful 2011 race for the high court that she lost narrowly to Justice David Prosser. That election became a proxy battle for Walker’s political agenda and ended up attracting national attention as liberal groups supported Kloppenburg and conservatives backed Prosser.
Both Bradley and Kloppenburg rejected the suggestion Tuesday evening that the election was bound to play out along partisan lines.
Bradley said it will be “a nonpartisan race for a nonpartisan position” and that her primary success shows her message and judicial philosophy — which she has said is “to interpret the law, not invent it” — “resonated across the spectrum, across Wisconsin.” She said she plans to “continue to run a positive campaign and to focus on what I bring to the court.”
Kloppenburg, meanwhile, said “conservative” and “liberal” are “labels other people chose to use.” She said her primary win shows “people don’t want partisan politics or special interests on their court.”
Kloppenburg then said Bradley’s political connections and rulings show she is biased. “I alone am the truly nonpartisan, independent candidate in this race,” she said.
Kloppenburg said she plans to reach out to voters who supported Donald, who issued a concession statement Tuesday evening, saying: “I am proud of the campaign we ran and the issues we brought to the forefront. The influence of partisan politics and special interest money has a terrible impact on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and our entire judicial system.”
The Supreme Court election was the only statewide race in Tuesday’s primary, which included scattered county and municipal races. Turnout was projected at only around 10 percent.
A photo ID was required to vote, a new requirement stemming from a law first passed in 2011 but eventually put on hold until it was upheld by the state Supreme Court in one of several rulings seen as partisan in recent years.
Conservative judges, including Bradley, currently hold a 5-2 majority on the court. Enmity between the justices has spilled into public view in recent years, including last year when the conservative bloc — given the power by voters to choose their leader — stripped Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson of the post and handed it to Patience Roggensack. Abrahamson briefly sued over the demotion before giving up.
In a deeply scrutinized ruling last year, the court shut down a secret investigation into Walker’s re-election campaign. Kloppenburg criticized the decision as unnecessarily lengthy and complex, and for drawing from material that wasn’t presented in the case. Bradley has said it would be unethical and improper to comment on court decisions because it could taint future litigation.
Senate puts off vote on conviction compensation
The future of a bill that would dramatically boost compensation for the wrongly convicted is now uncertain, with the Wisconsin Senate putting off a vote Tuesday.
The bipartisan bill would provide the wrongly convicted up to $50,000 per year spent behind bars, plus transitional services and access to state health insurance.
It already passed the Assembly but has drawn flak from open records advocates about a provision to seal court records related to the conviction. They say that would hinder efforts to examine where the case went wrong.
The Senate was set to vote on the measure Tuesday but instead returned it to the Joint Finance Committee. Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s office said it was removed due to some concerns but may still be considered in March.
High court mulls payday lending ballot question
The South Dakota attorney general’s office should have to rewrite its explanation of a ballot measure that would cap the interest rates offered by payday and auto title lenders to make clear it would drive such lenders from the state, an attorney for an opponent of the measure told the state Supreme Court on Tuesday.
The justices heard oral arguments in the appeal of a circuit judge’s ruling last year that upheld Attorney General Marty Jackley’s written explanation for the initiative, which would cap interest rates for such short-term loans at 36 percent annually.
Supporters say the proposal is aimed at protecting consumers from predatory lenders whose high-rate loans can trap people in debt.
Jackley has said he has provided the public with a fair and accurate explanation of the proposal.
But attorneys for Erin Ageton, an opponent of the initiative and an employee of a car title lender, argue that the explanation doesn’t correctly state the effect and purpose of the measure.
They contend that the explanation should include language informing voters that the proposal would put the industry out of business in South Dakota because the cap would prevent lenders from covering the costs of making the loans.
“The measure bans short-term lending,” said Alan Simpson, an attorney for Ageton. “The 36 percent number is just something grasped out of thin air.”
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website says a typical two-week payday loan can have fees that equate to an annual interest rate of almost 400 percent.
It’s not clear when the Supreme Court will issue an opinion. The legal proceeding is just one part of the complicated campaign over short-term lending in South Dakota ahead of the 2016 election.
An attorney for Ageton has said that she is an employee of Georgia-based Select Management Resources. The company gave about $1.7 million in 2015 to a South Dakota group pursuing a ballot measure that opponents say is an industry-backed attempt to insert a loophole allowing unlimited interest rates into the state constitution.
Federal court denies death row inmate’s appeal
A federal court has denied the appeal of a death row inmate seeking to overturn his 23-year-old murder conviction.
South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley says the U.S. District Court in South Dakota has denied Charles Rhines’ petition for a writ of habeas corpus.
A Pennington County jury convicted Rhines of first-degree murder in 1993 for the death of Donnivan Schaeffer. He was later sentenced to death.
Rhines appealed his conviction for killing Schaeffer during the 1992 burglary of the Rapid City doughnut shop where Schaeffer worked. The state Supreme Court upheld the conviction.
Rhines can appeal the federal district court’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals and, ultimately, to the U.S. Supreme Court.