Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Rebecca Bradley's opinions may have changed, but my concerns still remain

How Bradley comes to her opinions is still something we don't know much about

I’ve had time to develop some additional thoughts on state Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley’s college writings (see my original post here). Her disturbing words were written more than 20 years ago, and many have suggested that it’s silly to believe she can’t change her opinion from that time.

I have no doubt in my mind that Rebecca Bradley’s opinions can change (and HAVE changed) from what they were in the early 1990s. Certainly opinions have changed from those on the left as well, and President Barack Obama’s “evolved” views on same-sex marriage have been well-documented as an example.

What troubles me, though, is how Bradley comes up with her views today -- specifically, are her court decisions derived from precedents and research, or does she justify her decisions through politically conservative viewpoints consistent with the point in time she makes them in? Her recent political associations, which she hardly tries to hide, suggests it’s the latter.

I wrote about Bradley’s college opinions on Monday and explained that her words were troubling because they were very hate-filled. But I also explained my concerns that it seemed like her line of thinking -- and in fact, her judicial philosophy -- was more derived from her conservative views and what are popular viewpoints in conservatism today, rather than sound research, stare decisis and empirical evidence.

As a more recent example shows, in 2006 Bradley was touting the conservative viewpoint that most contraceptives are abortifacients -- a “fact” that is widely discredited. Nevertheless, it was this justification that led her to argue in favor of allowing pharmacists the right to deny women their prescribed drugs:
Bradley wrote, “The law certainly should protect pharmacists who choose not to be a party to the morally abhorrent termination of life,” explaining that “contraceptives may cause the death of a conceived, unborn child by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus.”
Again, those words are inaccurate depictions of what science says -- it takes implantation of an embryo on the uterine wall to occur before a woman is technically pregnant, and indeed many fertilized eggs can naturally pass out of a woman’s body without prescribed medications (we don’t call these “abortions,” or even miscarriages). But that was, and in many circles still is, the line of thinking that conservatives espoused on the issue.

Bradley didn’t make her opinion on this subject by reading all of the research. She assumed that the science on the topic was decided, when in reality most professionals were against what she was advocating. It’s likely she came about her opinion from conservative talking points from groups like Wisconsin Family Action, an anti-choice and anti-contraceptive organization.

Bradley has yet to clarify her past comments on contraception, and refuses to explain whether her views have changed -- or whether she still errantly believes use of contraception still equates to abortion.


Let’s go back to her past writings from the 1990s -- Bradley and her surrogates maintain that those writings were simply the flippant rantings of a college student upset with the outcome of a presidential election. And perhaps they were. Members of the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of pro-gay conservatives, have suggested that Bradley has since changed her views and that she even attended fundraisers for FAIR Wisconsin, an organization dedicated to promoting gay rights in the state.

It may be that Bradley’s opinions on homosexuality have changed -- but my fears of how she comes to her judicial opinions are still relevant. Her opinions are a snapshot in time of conservatism's attitude on these issues, and seem to suggest that Bradley comes up with her opinions based on what is popular conservative thought at the time.

In the 1990s it was common for conservatives to share the same hate-filled vitriol that she wrote in the Marquette Tribune. In the 2000s it was also common for conservatives to wrongly believe that contraceptives induced abortions.

I’m less concerned to know if Bradley’s opinions have changed, and more inclined to understand how her opinion-making process has changed, and whether it’s still derived from popular conservative talking points or not. Nothing from her apology this week, nor any other document available, suggests that she has abandoned her previous ways of crafting her opinions.

Wisconsinites deserve a Supreme Court justice who can issue opinions that are based out of law, research and precedents, not conservative talking points of the day.


As an aside, I want to add that I myself wrote dozens (if not more) of opinion columns in the student newspaper during my years at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. From a liberal viewpoint, even though I abhorred the decisions that were being made by the commander-in-chief, I refrained from saying awful things about then-President George W. Bush while many on the far left were more than eager to call him a fascist, a Nazi or a war criminal.

My refusal to go darker on those topics wasn’t to save face -- it was because calling the president those things would have been wrong. We can have spirited debate without going to that darker place, without the name-calling and hate-filled pandering that extremists on both ends love to portray their opponents as.

I realized this more than ten years ago as a 20-something year old writer, just starting out in journalism. It’s troubling that Bradley didn’t realize this herself when she was a young adult. That she and others are so ready to dismiss this aspect of her earlier life as simply “something youths will do” raises serious alarms in my mind.

I sincerely hope she has changed -- but for reasons outlined above, I still believe the state Supreme Court would be better off without her as part of it.

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