The race for Wisconsin Supreme Court had become an epic battle. Words like toxic and unprecedented were being used to describe the election season. And caught in the crosshairs was Judge Brian Hagedorn, an appellate judge on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and the conservative candidate contending for the open seat on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court.
A self-proclaimed “originalist,” Hagedorn’s judicial philosophy is rooted in the United States Constitution. “The authority you have as a judge is what’s given to you by the Constitution,” he told Decision. “And the Constitution gives us the ability to decide cases based upon the law.”
Hagedorn faced off with liberal-backed appeals court Judge Lisa Neubauer.
As of press time, Hagedorn led with 50.24 percent of the vote, while Neubauer stood at 49.75 percent, with 99 percent of precincts reporting. With such a narrow margin, both campaigns are bracing for a recount.
The winner will replace liberal Justice Shirley Abrahamson and serve a 10-year term. Conservatives now control the court 4-3. That would expand to 5-2 if Hagedorn is declared the winner and remain at 4-3 if Neubauer manages to overcome her deficit when the vote count is finalized.
An evangelical Christian, Hagedorn came under fire in February for his affiliation with The Augustine Academy, a Christian elementary school in Merton, Wisconsin, that he and his wife helped found and where they continue to serve as board members. The school’s code of conduct states that employees, board members, parents and students are prohibited from “immoral sexual activity,” which is defined as anything “apart from the context of marriage between one man and one woman.”
“The policies are not aimed at people, they’re aimed at conduct,” Hagedorn reasoned. “And they’re similar to what you’d find in nondenominational Christian schools, Catholic schools, Lutheran schools and other schools of faith all around the state.”
Hagedorn also faced backlash for his pro-life stance and belief in the sanctity of human life. At every turn it seemed his Biblical beliefs became a topic of contention. His critics argued that his Christian values prevent him from being fair and impartial.
“There’s really an effort to silence people of faith—to push them out of the public square,” Hagedorn said. “The only people who think that Christians can’t set aside their views are people who are biased against Christians. I’m not running on my morals, or my faith even. It certainly shapes who I am as a person, but I’ve never put my [religious] views front and center in terms of this campaign or as a judge. However, there’s nothing inconsistent about being a faithful Christian and being a faithful judge at the same time.”
Even Dr. Bradley Boivin, an openly gay psychologist from Nashotah, Wis., came to Hagedorn’s defense. “I am convinced that [Brian Hagedorn] is not only qualified to be a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice, but that he will exercise his judicial responsibilities in a manner that is true to the Constitution and fair to all the people he serves,” Boivin said.
“I have significant doubts about his opponent’s ability to be fair and impartial on matters of religious liberty. Her attacks on Brian have demonstrated a clear bias against those who embrace traditional Christian orthodoxy, and that should be of grave concern to the 4.3 million people of faith who call Wisconsin home.”
Julaine K. Appling, president of the Wisconsin Family Council, believes the attacks on Hagedorn were the liberal progressives’ attempt to tell people of faith: “You can have freedom of worship, but you don’t get freedom of religion. You can have your churches and your families and your schools if you want. But don’t you dare stick your head up out of the foxhole to run for public office. Because if you do, we will annihilate you.”
Appling asserted that Hagedorn was being held to a different standard than any other judicial candidate she’s seen, and she’s been involved in the public arena for 20 years. “Are they trying to apply a religious test as a qualification for public office?” she asked. “If so, that’s patently unconstitutional.”
Brian is principled, fair and a man of integrity, Appling said. “He’s everything everyone should want in a judge and a Supreme Court justice. He’s going to treat people fairly under the law, and he’s going to look at the cases that are brought before him with an understanding of what the current law is and what the constitutions of Wisconsin and the United States say, and he will judge accordingly.”
In a purportedly nonpartisan race, partisan politics certainly took a front seat throughout the election season. “One of the reasons these races are so contentious nowadays is because courts have often been used as the political playground for people who want to accomplish their political agenda that they can’t accomplish at the ballot box,” said Hagedorn. “Personal political values have no place on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The justice’s role is to say what the law is, not what the justice thinks the law should be.”
Three weeks before election day, Hagedorn shared with Decision how he found solace amid such volatility: “In the midst of all this, I’ve certainly been taking a lot of refuge in the Psalms. I just want to be faithful to this path. … Hopefully I can serve God’s purposes in my generation, right here at this point in time, whatever that may be and however it may turn out.”
A father of five and a husband of 17 years, Hagedorn admitted that it wasn’t easy taking some of the blows and name-calling dished out by his opponent. But that didn’t change his desire to serve the people of Wisconsin and be faithful to the call God has placed on his life.
“I don’t want to be distracted … or allow myself to be too emotionally shaken by criticism, but allow myself to be grounded where I need to be grounded in the Lord.”
Photographs: Courtesy of Judge Brian Hagedorn