Bruce Murphy
Back in the News

‘I Am Not a Republican Justice’

State Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn discusses his decisions and right-wing attacks on him

By - Dec 21st, 2020 11:15 am
Brian Hagedorn. Photo courtesy of the Friends of Brian Hagedorn.

Brian Hagedorn. Photo courtesy of the Friends of Brian Hagedorn.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Brian Hagedorn served as Republican Gov Scott Walker‘s attorney and helped write the Act 10 law that decimated public employee unions. He is a member of the conservative Federalist Society and helped found a private school that bars its doors not just to gay staff but gay students. And he was elected with overwhelming support from Republicans in a hard-fought election in 2019. But he had news for members of that party.

“We’re a nonpartisan court. I mean, I certainly was elected with the support of many conservatives, but I am not a Republican justice on the court,” he noted in response to questions from the New York Times.

“When I ran, I was pretty consistent that I believe deeply that law and politics are not the same thing… And I said I was going to be a textualist and an originalist. I believe very deeply in those things. And I think my decisions have reflected that.”

They certainly have. Most notably in a a decision he wrote, joining the state Supreme Court’s liberal minority to create a majority throwing out challenges to the Wisconsin presidential election results by the Trump campaign and other Trump loyalists. On that one hand, the decision was no surprise, as federal and state courts across the land, along with the U.S. Supreme Court, summarily rejected these suits, often with stinging language.

As Hagedorn puts it: “they were asking us to throw out those elections. There was certainly nothing in the nature of the law or the facts that supported getting anywhere close to that… I do think if you’re going to make a claim like that, you better have your evidence and you better have the law on your side and make your case. And at least in the cases before us, that wasn’t the case.”

On the other hand, his decision was a shock to many Republicans in Wisconsin, who felt they had elected a conservative activist, in the mold of Chief Justice Pat Roggensack and her two frequent collaborators, Rebecca Bradley and Annette Ziegler. Hagedorn declined to discuss what those justices were thinking, offering only this: “I can’t speak for them on those issues. To me there was a pretty clear application of well-settled law and that’s how I moved forward in deciding those issues.”

His decision has generated rabid criticism for Hagedorn. “Talk radio in Wisconsin, particularly on the conservative side, is very prominent. I turned on the radio one morning driving to work and heard what a horrible person I was. So it’s hard to miss it,” he said.

“Yes, I’ve been called a traitor. I’ve been called a liar. I’ve been called a fraud. I’ve been asked if I’m being paid off by the Chinese Communist Party. I’ve been told I might be tried for treason by a military tribunal.”

The text of the phone messages to Hagedorn’s office phone were reported by Bill Lueders for Isthmus and other publications. Said one caller: “You gave us a lot of lies. You said you were a Republican conservative. You’re not. You’re terrible. Hopefully someday, you’ll get paid back on this. Resign. You’re a piece of garbage.”

Said another: “You are an absolute disgrace… Not sure how you can look at yourself in the mirror, but you are a coward.”

Hagedorn admitted to some fear about some of the more “dark messages.”

“I’ve got five young kids and, sure, there’s certain uncomfortableness, too, when your child asks you whether it’s OK to play in the front yard or whether they should just stay in the backyard, ” he told the Times.

Also of interest was how Hagedorn voted, given that the Trump lawsuit asked to throw out 221.000 absentee ballots in Milwaukee and Dane County.

“I got the absentee ballot, and I mailed it in,” Hagedorn noted.


If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.

6 thoughts on “Back in the News: ‘I Am Not a Republican Justice’”

  1. John Norquist says:

    Brian Hagedorn has proven to be a person of integrity. His term runs 10 years and during that time I’m sure he’ll disappoint Democrats/liberals/progressives on many if not most issues. He’ll also please conservatives on many issues, but he has demonstrated he is absolutely not a partisan hack nor a politician who’s obsessed with reelection. My wife and I contributed money to his opponent, Judge Lisa Neubauer. We were disappointed when she lost. She campaigned on the theme of being a judge who would “call balls and strikes” rather than act in as a partisan. Brian Hagedorn has done exactly that.

    John Norquist
    Mayor of Milwaukee 1988-2004

  2. kaygeeret says:

    I applaud Justice Hagedorn. He is exactly the model of what I expect a Judge to do when ruling.

    I intensely disagree with the entire ‘originalist’ theory as I believe it is both stupendously wrong and incredibly arrogant.

    Yet the Justice has proved that he is also committed to ruling on the law and that is exactly what I expect a Judge to do, particularly a Supreme Court Justice.

    So, thank you sir for reaffirming my faith in judges.

    I will, for now, refrain from referring to the WI Supreme Court as corrupt.

  3. Thomas Martinsen says:

    Norquist and kaygeeret mak good points. Justice Hagedorn showed inpartiality in an important case.

  4. Mingus says:

    Even though I would not agree with many of his rulings, it is great for our democracy to see an elected political with integrety. Since the year Scott Walker was elected, we have seen judges at both the State and Federal level who were disposed to rule in favor of Republicans no matter what the elements of the issues were.

  5. lccfccoop2 says:

    I also supported Justice Hagedorn’s opponent in 2019. I didn’t believe him when he said he would follow the law and not be an ideologue. That’s what all the right wing ideologues say…

    Thank heaven he was serious.

    When the crucial time came over the 2020 election. Wisconsin’s was the lone Supreme Court that even came close to entertaining the notion of overturning a statewide election on dubious and tardy legal claims not of “fraud” but alleged “ irregularities” that could have been raised many months or years before the election.

    The center held – barely – and thanks to a judge who is indeed a legal conservative not a heedless ideologue.

    John Norquist is right – in the next 9 years I am sure Justice Hagedorn will make make decisions I dislike. But that won’t diminish his decision on 12/14/20.

  6. gwpinetree says:

    The voicemail line about Hagedorn being a “coward” kind of hit home for me.

    My occasional op eds have resulted in some nasty voicemails, including the epithet “liberal coward.”

    I just want the point out that calling someone a coward without revealing your own identity reveals the sort of unreflective mentality that characterizes a lot today’s political discussion.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us