By Gilligan Gonzo —
After Justice N. Patrick Crooks was found dead in his chambers in September, Rebecca Bradley was temporarily appointed to fill his seat by Gov. Walker. Walker stated that Bradley was the most qualified person for the job, but it is important to note that the last two jobs she’s had that make her appear so qualified were both were given to her by Walker. He appointed her as a circuit court judge in 2012, and then appointed her to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals earlier in 2015.
Crooks had announced before his death that he would not be running for re-election this Spring. Upon that announcement, three candidates declared they would pursue the position, State Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald, and Appeals Court Judge Rebecca Bradley. That’s right, Bradley had expressed her intent to run for this position before Walker appointed her to the temporary seat, a historic first in the state of Wisconsin.
There is a term in politics called the incumbent advantage. The idea is that when someone already holds an elected position, they have a huge advantage of keeping that position against other candidates. Reasons for this include name recognition, the political connections gained from being in the position, and more donations going into their campaign fund. If you don’t believe that incumbents inherently have an advantage during an election, just look at congress. Just two years ago, polls showed that about 14% of Americans were satisfied with the job congress was doing, yet the reelection rate during that same time was around 95%. So even if we all think congress is doing an awful job, the incumbent advantage keeps them all in office.
Applying the incumbent advantage to our current situation, it should be clear that if any of the three people that were running for the Supreme Court Justice seat were able to have that seat before the election, they would gain a huge advantage over the other two. This is why, when Walker began to hint that he would appoint Bradley to the seat that she was running for, groups and individuals all over the state cried out. The consensus was that this would be unfair and that someone not running for the seat should have the temporary position. However, Walker ignored the pleas, and tried to justify his actions by tweeting, “There is precedent for appointing WI Supreme Court Justices who may later run for the seat.”
Whomever wrote that tweet for him is a master of doublespeak. “May” is the keyword here. In saying that previous governors have appointed a Justice who “may” later run for the seat, he makes it sound like this has happened before. But the truth is, no other governor has ever appointed a Justice to a seat while she was currently running for that seat. There have been instances where a Justice was appointed, and then after a year or two they decided they’d run in an election to make their temporary seat more permanent, so Walker isn’t wrong when he says there have been instances showing that an appointed Justice “may” run for reelection, but “may” doesn’t apply in this instance. In this instance, a new precedent was set by Walker. Now a future governor can say, “There is precedent for appointing WI Supreme Court Justices who are currently running for the seat.”