Conservative-Backed Judge Brian Hagedorn Sworn Into Wisconsin Supreme Court

Hagedorn Begins 10-Year Term On State's Highest Court

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

Conservative-backed judge Brian Hagedorn was sworn in Thursday to a 10-year term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a private ceremony.

The public investiture and swearing-in ceremony will be held at the Capitol later this month.

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

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The new justice’s ascension changes the court’s partisan balance to 5-2 in favor of conservatives.

Mordecai Lee, professor emeritus of political science at the UW-Milwaukee, said that ratio means conservatives have a good chance of writing many majority opinions for cases before the state’s highest court.

“This is kind of a comfort level that gives conservatives a feeling that, no matter what, they’re always going to have a viable majority,” he said.

Hagedorn has strong ties to former Gov. Scott Walker, having 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.

Hagedorn came under fire during his campaign for blog posts he wrote in 2005, when he was a law student at Northwestern University. The posts 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 campaign, Hagedorn received financial support from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, as well as the Republican State Leadership Committee. A number of prominent business groups stayed out of the race, however, including the Wisconsin Realtors Association, which pulled its endorsement after the blog posts surfaced.

In any case, the race has been reported as the most expensive state Supreme Court race in Wisconsin history.

Hadegorn defeated fellow appellate court judge Lisa Neubauer by less than 1 percentage point to take the seat on the state’s highest court. Their campaigns often focused on each candidate’s partisan affiliations — an emergent theme in Wisconsin Supreme Court races in recent years.

The state’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.

Lee pointed out Kelly could lose the race and conservatives still maintain their majority.

“The justice being sworn in today gives them the margin of safety,” he said.

That election will be held on the same day as Wisconsin’s presidential primary, which some believe could benefit Democrats, as liberal voters tend to turn out in higher numbers in presidential election years.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated with comments from Mordecai Lee.