Critical Wisconsin State Supreme Court Election Tuesday 4/2

We don’t have to wait until 2020 to start organizing in Wisconsin.

Tomorrow, Wisconsinites will choose between Lisa Neubauer and Brian Hagedorn for a seat on the state Supreme Court–and the outcome could foreshadow whether Wisconsin flips in 2020. The seat is currently held by Shirley Abrahamson, a left-leaning judge who is retiring after a recent cancer diagnosis.

Despite the traditionally nonpartisan role of the courts in our political system, the Wisconsin Supreme Court race has already spiraled into a partisan battle. Democrats are backing Neubauer and Republicans have lined up behind Hagedorn. Currently, conservatives have a 4-3 advantage on the court, and the next court election in 2020 will place conservative judge Daniel Kelly on the ballot, opening the potential for a liberal majority on the court in this critical swing state.

This election doesn’t just matter for Wisconsin. It matters to people across the country, because in a time when the federal government is cracking down on individual liberties, states can protect women’s reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality, challenge unfairly gerrymandered districts, and uphold the right to unionize. States need unbiased judges like Neubauer on their highest courts, not right-wing ideologues.

Regardless of where you live, you can help get Wisconsin Democrats to the polls by pitching in and making calls with Swing Left tonight and tomorrow during election day.

In case you are just hearing about this crucial election for the first time, here’s all you need to know about the race:

Who are the candidates?

Lisa Neubauer currently serves as the Chief Judge of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, District II. She was elected to the Court of Appeals in 2008 and re-elected in 2014. Prior to becoming a judge, Neubauer worked as a litigation attorney at Foley and Lardner LLP and clerked for Barbara Crabb, the former Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court, Western District of Wisconsin. Neubauer received her JD with honors from the University of Chicago.  

Brian Hagedorn also currently serves on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, District II. He was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker (R) in 2015 and re-elected in 2017. Prior to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, Hagedorn worked as Gov. Walker’s chief legal counsel, an attorney at a private law firm, and as a clerk for former Wisconsin Court of Appeals Michael Gableman. Hagedorn received his JD from Northwestern University, where he was president of the Federalist Society.

Who has endorsed their campaigns?

Neubauer has received the support of 98% of judges who have made endorsements during this race. Hagedorn only has five current or former judges on his list of endorsements.

Neubauer has also been endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign while Hagedorn has been endorsed by the NRA.

What do we know about their political leanings?

While both candidates have emphasized their non-partisan approaches to judicial decision-making, questions of partisan alliances have dogged both candidates.

Neubauer worked as an aide for Democrat state senator Fred Risser and the 1984 presidential campaign for Gary Hart. Her husband was the former chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, and a member of the legislature. Her daughter, Greta, currently serves in the legislature. Her donations to state and federal Democratic candidates and organizations total $27,000, although she stopped making political contributions in 2007.

Meanwhile, Hagedorn spent four years working for Republican Governor Scott Walker, and was instrumental in drafting the infamous Act 10, also known as the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill, which limited collective bargaining and forced public employees to contribute to their pension and health insurance plans out of their own paychecks and sparked massive protests in the state capitol. During this time, he also defended the lead paint industry by lobbying to protect lead paint manufacturers from liability in health-related litigation.

Hagedorn is also tied to anti-LGBTQ group Alliance for Defending Freedom. He received $3,000 in speaker’s fees from ADF conferences–the texts of these speeches have not been released to the public. The ADF supports criminalizing same-sex relationships, advocates for sterilization of transgender individuals, and advocates for laws that uphold LGBTQ discimination. Hagedorn also has a history of extremely problematic statements on same-sex relationships and Planned Parenthood.

What are their judicial philosophies?

Hagedorn’s website states that “personal political values have no place on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.” He favors an originalist approach to the law, which interprets the Constitution as it was written in 1789. He also specifically calls for protection of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to bear arms.

Neubauer has defended her record as a judge as being “tough but fair.” She has criticized Hagedorn’s originalist philosophy, citing precedents and changes in society that have occured since 1789. Neubauer has called for re-opening Supreme Court rule-making conferences to the public, and establishing stricter rules for when justices must recuse themselves from cases for ethical reasons.

Colleagues of Neubauer have defended her from accusations of partisanship by Hagedorn’s campaign, including coworkers who have donated to Governor Scott Walker and other Republicans.

At the core of this race is the matter of experience, where Neubauer undoubtedly has the upper hand. Over 300 current and former Wisconsin judges have endorsed Neubauer’s candidacy, while only five have endorsed Hagedorn. What is striking about this wide gap is that Neubauer and Hagedorn both sit on the same Court of Appeals–they’re coworkers.

The fact that the overwhelming majority of judges have endorsed Neubauer over Hagedorn indicates that Neubauer is not just the better option for the Supreme Court seat, but the best option. Her experience, level-headedness, and willingness to increase transparency into judicial affairs are assets.

If you live in Wisconsin, make sure to vote on Tuesday, April 2nd to decide who will sit on your state’s Supreme Court. If you don’t live in Wisconsin, you can spend a few minutes calling Wisconsinites to remind them about the election (sign up to phone bank here).

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