Brian Hagedorn, the conservative-backed candidate vying to replace outgoing Justice Shirley Abrahamson, is running, he says, to put the judiciary back in its place.
Hagedorn, who has served as an appeals court judge and as former Gov. Scott Walker’s former chief lawyer, believes judges should take a modest approach to the law that steers clear of making the courts another type of Legislature.
“I think there’s a right way to do law and a wrong way to do law, and I don’t want to see our court become politicized,” Hagedorn said. “I’ve seen the judiciary take a place in our society it was not really designed to have.”
For Hagedorn, a judge’s proper role, as he’s repeated throughout the campaign, is to determine what the law is, not what it should be.
In Hagedorn’s view, if the courts stay out of the political fray, the result is a stronger democracy: predictable rules for business and stronger civic debate when the court allows the Legislature to determine which laws to write.
“When judges do their role well, it empowers the rest of society to function in a much more healthy way,” Hagedorn said.
Hagedorn said it’s no coincidence that outside spending in this year’s Supreme Court race favors his opponent, the liberal-backed Chief Appeals Court Judge Lisa Neubauer, by a 14-to-1 ratio.
“The money is flowing for her because I do think these liberal special interests want to take over the court,” Hagedorn said.
He said the rise in outside spending in judicial races is symptomatic of courts acting politically on a range of controversial issues. In his view, spending in judicial races is representative of the battle over whether courts will continue to act in that fashion.
Hagedorn, who describes himself as a judicial “textualist” or “originalist,” began forming his views while at law school at Northwestern University, where he was president of the Federalist Society, an influential conservative legal organization that emphasizes individual liberty, traditional values and the rule of law. Hagedorn says he admired the emphasis the society placed on robust debate.
His judicial role models are men who have upheld those values: Current U.S. Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch, Clarence Thomas and the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Hagedorn’s journey into the legal profession was anything but predestined. After college, he worked in business for three years as a 401(k) plan administrator. He decided he wanted a more intellectually stimulating career and considered law school, but the process was delayed after he and his wife had their first child.
But once he got his acceptance letter from Northwestern, it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
“I love thinking hard about things. I love the intellectual challenge, and law is, if anything, an intellectual challenge,” he said.
Hagedorn’s world view is heavily influenced by his judicial philosophy and his Christian faith, which he says doesn’t affect the way he views the law so much as it leads him to treat everybody with dignity and respect.
In previous debates, he has slammed Neubauer and her backers for criticizing his controversial views on LGBT issues as an attack on people of faith.
Hagedorn, a state appeals court judge, espoused views against gay marriage and several other issues in a personal blog he kept more than a decade ago. In it he argued a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a Texas anti-sodomy law could lead to the legalization of bestiality.
He continues to be a board member of an academy in Waukesha County that employs a code of personal conduct that lists “immoral sexual activity” by teachers, staff, board members, students or their parents as grounds for dismissal. It defines immoral sexual activity as “any form of touching or nudity for the purpose of evoking sexual arousal apart from the context of marriage between one man and one woman.”
Hagedorn also received more than $3,000 over three years from Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal organization that has supported criminalizing sodomy and sterilizing transgender people.
Hagedorn’s views on LGBT issues recently prompted the Wisconsin Realtors Association, an organization that represents the real estate industry and an influential underwriter of conservative-backed Supreme Court candidates, to withdraw its endorsement of Hagedorn and request its $18,000 donation back.
Hagedorn has repeatedly defended himself against the reports by arguing his faith in no way influences his decision-making as a judge and that Neubauer and her backers opted to make his personal views an issue in the race, not him.
For his part, Hagedorn would rather highlight his legal career as both an attorney for Walker and on the appeals court. As Walker’s chief legal counsel, he had a role in drafting and litigating some of the most significant state legislation over the past decade, including the controversial 2011 law known as Act 10 that effectively eliminated the power of public sector labor unions, even though he had a role in drafting it.
As an appeals court judge, he said he’s made a reputation for himself as someone who is scholarly, clear and a good writer.
His life, he said, has been shaped in many ways by his family: his marriage of 17 years and the adoption of his daughter, Lily, which he says was driven by his sense of obligation to care for those in need. Hagedorn and his wife, Christina, were asked about 10 weeks in advance if they’d be interested in adopting Lily with the knowledge her birth mother had no prenatal care and had used drugs, including opiates.
Hagedorn, who along with his wife was present for Lily’s birth, called the experience “beautiful, sad and emotional.” Lily spent a week withdrawing from the drugs.
The Hagedorns have an open adoption with the birth parents, and he said the experience gave him an intimate view of the impact of drug addiction. He said his relationship with Lily’s birth parents has helped inform his view that people should be held accountable for wrongdoing but that perpetrators of crime are often products of their own troubled histories.