You'd think members of the state Supreme Court would have too little time on their hands to worry about the contents of their Wikipedia pages.
But conservative firebrand Rebecca Bradley isn't like most other Supreme Court justices.
Last week, a person with the Twitter handle @arizonasunblock from Tampa, Florida, noticed that Bradley, who has been on the high court since 2015, appeared to make major changes to her Wikipedia biography earlier this year. Here's how the tweet went:
"Conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court justice @JudgeBradleyWI is currently engaging in an edit war on her Wikipedia page under an anonymous username that she also uses in her personal email."
The username? "rlgbjd," which could very well refer to Rebecca Lynn Grassl Bradley, J.D. She received her law degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1996.
It turns out the Tampa tweeter had guessed correctly.
"Liberal media has distorted my record since the beginning of my judicial career, and I refuse to let false accusations go unchecked," Bradley told the Journal Sentinel in an email. "On my wikipedia page, I added excerpts from actual opinions and removed dishonest information about my background."
What, then, was getting under her skin?
It's clear Bradley really, really disliked the section in her Wikipedia page dealing with a Republican challenge to the stay-at-home order issued by the administration of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in response the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to her Wikipedia page, in May 2020, Bradley "compared the state's stay-at-home orders to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II," a case known as Korematsu v. the United States.
"I’ll direct your attention to another time in history, the Korematsu decision, where the court said the need for action was great and time was short and that justified, and I’m quoting, 'assembling together and placing under guard all those of Japanese ancestry in assembly centers' during World War II.
"Could the secretary (of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services), under this broad delegation of legislative power, or legislative-like power, order people out of their homes into centers where they are properly socially distanced in order to combat the pandemic? . . . The point of my question is, what are the limits, constitutional or statutory? There have to be some, don’t there, counsel?"
Not surprisingly, the reference got widespread media attention. The actor George Takei, who was in a Japanese American internment camp from ages 5 to almost 9, ripped Bradley over the comparison, as did the board chairman of the Japanese American National Museum.
With her Wikipedia edits, Bradley dropped what she said during oral arguments and replaced it with a quote from her concurring opinion that overturned the stay-at-home order.
"Although headlines may sensationalize the invocation of cases such as Korematsu, the point of citing them is not to draw comparisons between the circumstances of people horrifically interned by their government during a war and those of people subjected to isolation orders during a pandemic," Bradley wrote. "We mention cases like Korematsu in order to test the limits of government authority, to remind the state that urging courts to approve the exercise of extraordinary power during times of emergency may lead to extraordinary abuses of its citizens."
Got that? She swapped out her offensive statement from oral arguments for a slightly more muted statement from her written decision.
But that wasn't all.
She also revised the description of her majority opinion in the 2021 redistricting case aimed at setting new political boundary lines in the state.
Originally, her Wikipedia bio said her written decision in the case "declined to change district maps that were in favor of Republicans." That sounds a lot like the Associated Press' version, which said the high court "sided with Republicans" in the redistricting ruling.
But Bradley revised the section to say her majority decision "declined to change district maps to achieve partisan 'fairness' and limited the court's involvement in redistricting to ensuring the maps comported with the law."
Sounds so nonpartisan, doesn't it?
Appointed originally by Republican Gov. Scott Walker, Bradley was one of four conservatives who controlled the Supreme Court at the time of these decisions. Liberals now hold a 4-3 edge on the court.
Bradley made the editorial changes on March 29 and May 23.
"Republicans have become the party of book banning, but as always, Rebecca Bradley goes one step further and wants to erase the Internet," said Scot Ross, former executive director of One Wisconsin Now, a liberal group that led Democrats' offense during Bradley's 2016 race.
Bradley made changes to one more case on her personal page.
The 52-year-old jurist corrected a summary of her 2022 decision outlawing the use of drop boxes to cast absentee ballots in Wisconsin. The Wikipedia page, citing an erroneous Slate article, said Bradley had written that "the 2020 election of Joe Biden was illegitimate due to the use of these boxes."
Her decision didn't say that. Bradley revised the page to say she had written that "if elections are conducted outside of the law, the people have not conferred their consent on the government. Such elections are unlawful and their results are illegitimate."
Her self-edits haven't gone unnoticed at the online encyclopedia. A Wikipedia editor scolded Bradley for making changes to her own page, noting this could create a conflict of interest.
"Editors with a conflict of interest may be unduly influenced by their connection to the topic," Bradley was told. She was directed to Wikipedia's editing guidelines, which suggested users "avoid editing or creating articles about yourself, your family, friends, colleagues, company, organization, clients, or competitors."
Her page has been flagged on Wikipedia's conflict-of-interest noticeboard and led to a fair amount of discussion on whether to block her account. An administrator there said there was no need to block her now since she had not made edits in a couple of months but that "a block might be appropriate if the account returns to editing in a non-constructive manner."
She wouldn't be the first to be banned from rewriting her own Wikipedia. In July, New York Republican Rep. Mike Lawler had his personal account blocked on Wikipedia after making too many edits to his own page.
In addition to substantive issues, Bradley also updated her photo and corrected one clear error. Her Wikipedia page said she had participated in the Thomas More Society, a right-wing, nonprofit law firm. Instead, she was a member of the St. Thomas More Lawyers Society, a group of Catholic lawyers and judges.
In her email to the Journal Sentinel, Bradley said she had to make these changes because members of the media aren't doing their job.
"Clearly, the media has made no effort to report honestly so public officials have no choice but to correct the record for them," Bradley said.
"I hope this clears up the great Wikipedia issue facing our state and allows you to focus on the constitutional crisis created by my colleagues," she concluded, referring to actions taken by the new liberal majority on the court.
But Bradley may be jumping the gun — the "great Wikipedia issue" may not be over. A quick review of her current page shows someone recently erased some of her edits, including her version of the Japanese internment reference.
Perhaps it's time for Bradley to get back to work rewriting her judicial record one Wikipedia entry at a time.
Contact Daniel Bice at (414) 313-6684 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DanielBice or on Facebook at fb.me/daniel.bice.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Justice Rebecca Bradley edits out criticism on Wikipedia page