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Justice Brian Hagedorn Downplays Political Ties At Public Swearing-In

New Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Strengthens Court's Conservative Majority

Brian Hagedorn
Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Brian Hagedorn speaks at a news conference Wednesday, April 3, 2019, in Pewaukee. Hagedorn, a conservative, led liberal-backed Lisa Neubauer by 5,962 votes out of 1.2 million cast, based on unofficial results with all precincts reporting. Ivan Moreno/AP Photo

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn was ceremonially sworn in on Wednesday, marking the beginning of his 10-year term.

Hagedorn, who was officially sworn in to the court earlier this month, was backed by conservatives during his campaign. His ascension strengthens the conservative majority on the court, bringing it to 5-2.

But during his public investiture ceremony at the state Capitol, Hagedorn downplayed his partisan affiliation.

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“I’m not pro-Republican or pro-Democrat, I’m not here to advance any agenda other than faithful application of our constitution and our laws,” he said. “I will be a pro-law judge.”

During his campaign, Hagedorn received financial support from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, as well as the Republican State Leadership Committee. Hagedorn also has strong ties to former Gov. Scott Walker. He served as Walker’s chief legal counsel from 2011 until 2015, until the former governor appointed him to an open seat on the District 2 Court of Appeals.

But the new justice said political work is behind him.

“My days of advocating for particular issues or clients are no more,” Hagedorn said. “This robe does not empower me to be your philosopher king. This robe does not empower me to enforce my personal moral views, or policy preferences or political views on anyone else.”

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack was one of several speakers at the ceremony. In her remarks, Roggensack spoke to the importance of judges’ impartiality.

“The law must be applied evenly to all who bring contest to the Supreme Court to resolve,” she said.

Roggensack said Hagedorn is up to that task.

“I do not expect that the public will always agree with his decisions — goodness knows, they certainly don’t always agree with mine,” she said. “However, I am very confident Justice Hagedorn will be an independent and intellectually honest justice.”

Hagedorn replaced longtime liberal-backed Justice Shirley Abrahamson on the court, who announced last year she would retire after more than 40 years on the bench.

Hagedorn faced criticism during his campaign for blog posts he wrote during law school that compared homosexuality to bestiality and called Planned Parenthood a “wicked organization.”

He was also criticized for his position as founder and board member of Augustine Academy, a private Christian school in Delafield where the code of conduct prohibits teachers, students and parents from participating in homosexual activity.

Hagedorn defended himself against those attacks by saying he would be impartial on the bench, despite his personal convictions.

During the Capitol ceremony, Hagedorn’s wife, Christina, reflected on those campaign attacks.

“We cannot let their message that you cannot be a person of faith and a faithful judge win,” she recalled telling her husband.

Hadegorn defeated Lisa Neubauer, a fellow appellate court judge, by less than 1 percentage point to take the seat on the state’s highest court.

Wisconsin’s next Supreme Court race will be next April, in which conservative-backed Justice Daniel Kelly will run to keep the seat he was appointed to in 2016 by Walker.

Liberal-backed candidates Ed Fallone, a Marquette University law professor, and Jill Karofsky, a Dane County judge, are running against him.

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