Wisconsin’s era of conservative reform came to an end with the election of Gov. Tony Evers. With a liberal governor, the conservative majorities in the Legislature are relegated to a rearguard action to defend the magnificent gains made in the last eight years. But the Legislature’s rampart might be flanked if Wisconsin’s liberals are able to seize control of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court. They could do that next year unless Judge Brian Hagedorn is elected to the court this April.
When Scott Walker was elected in 2010, Wisconsin’s liberals made it clear that they could not abide the will of the people and allow conservatives to govern. A familiar pattern emerged: Republicans legally pass conservative legislation into law; liberals sue; Dane County judge invalidates conservative law; after appeals, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturns the Dane County judge and allows the law to take hold. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has consistently thwarted the liberals’ attempt to overturn conservative laws through the courts, so the liberals are determined to get the court back under their control.
Right now, four of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court Justices are judicial conservatives. That means that they think the role of the court is to strictly interpret the law as written and respect the rights and responsibilities of the other two branches of government to enact the will of the people through legislation. By contrast, three of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court justices are judicial liberals, meaning that they take a more expansive view of the role of the court to enact their own wills to right wrongs, as they define them, with little regard for judicial restraint.
One of those three judicial liberals, Justice Shirley Abrahamson, is retiring and the election this April is to replace her. At first glance, this may appear to be a relatively inconsequential election. The balance of the court is not on the line. If the people of Wisconsin elect a judicial liberal, the balance of the court will remain the same. If the voters elect a judicial conservative, then the judicial conservatives strengthen their majority to a 5-2 split. Without much on the line, why worry, right?
The key is to look to April of 2020. In that election, incumbent Justice Dan Kelly will likely run for reelection. Kelly is one of the judicial conservatives on the court. The challenge for Kelly is that the presidential primary will be on the same ballot. President Donald Trump is unlikely to face a serious primary challenger, so Republican turnout will be light. Meanwhile, the Democratic primary for president portends to be hotly contested, so Democratic turnout will likely be massive. That does not bode well for a conservative judicial candidate on the ballot. Kelly faces a steep uphill climb that has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with the rest of the ballot.
If Wisconsin’s voters replace Abrahamson with another judicial liberal and retain a 4-3 judicial conservative majority, it is exceedingly likely that the election of April 2020 will flip the court to a judicial liberal majority. If that happens, liberals will sue to overturn every conservative law passed in the previous decade and have the Supreme Court on their side. They cannot turn back the clock through the representative democratic process, so they will turn to the courts instead. Act 10, concealed carry, school choice, the repeal of prevailing wage, the Wisconsin REINS Act, voter ID, right to work, castle doctrine — all of it is at risk if judicial liberals gain control of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court.
That is why Wisconsin must elect a judicial conservative to the Supreme Court this April. That judicial conservative is Appeals Court Judge Brian Hagedorn.
Hagedorn has served in a number of legal capacities since graduating from the Northwestern University School of Law. After three years in private practice, he worked as a law clerk for Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman before going to work as an assistant attorney general. He worked as Gov. Scott Walker’s chief legal counsel from 2011 to 2015 during the time when many of Wisconsin’s most significant reforms in generations were passed into law. Since 2015, Hagedorn has been serving as a judge on Wisconsin’s Court of Appeals.
Hagedorn’s judicial philosophy is one of restraint and humble respect for the individual rights and the will of the people. As he says, “justices wear neutral robes, not capes.” That is exactly the kind of attitude Wisconsin needs on the court to protect our liberties and uphold constitutional laws that were dutifully passed by the representatives of the people.
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