Wisconsin High Court Race Ends With Liberal Conceding

MADISON, Wis. (CN) – The contentious race for a vacant seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court concluded Wednesday morning when a liberal state appeals court judge conceded to her conservative opponent.

In this March 15, 2019 file photo, Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Brian Hagedorn speaks during a debate with opponent Lisa Neubauer at the Wisconsin State Bar Center in Madison, Wis. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP, File)

Lisa Neubauer’s concession comes eight days after calling for a recount when early results on April 3 showed Brian Hagedorn with a slim 6,000 vote lead.

“I am deeply humbled and grateful that the people of Wisconsin have placed their trust in me,” Hagedorn said in a statement Wednesday. “Throughout this campaign, I said the job of a justice is to say what the law is, not what the law should be. I said that partisan politics has no place at the Wisconsin Supreme Court, that I would protect the public, and that our job is to uphold the Constitution as written. I meant every word, and I will endeavor to fulfill these promises with all my ability.”

Hagedorn, who also served on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, had declared victory a week ago when the election results showed him ahead with 50.2% of the vote compared to Neubauer’s 49.8%.

Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Lisa Neubauer. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP, File)

The two ran to replace liberal Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a 45-year veteran of and the first woman to be elected to Wisconsin’s high court who has been battling cancer.

For her part, Neubauer said in a statement Wednesday that “Judge Hagedorn said that he was running to get partisan influences out of our courts, and I hope he lives up to his promise. Our courts are strongest when politics are set aside and we follow the law regardless of personal views.”

Hagedorn’s election is a big win for state conservatives. The breakdown of the Wisconsin Supreme Court now stands at a 5-2 conservative majority as opposed to a 4-3 majority. This is especially important considering Justice Daniel Kelly, a conservative appointee of former Governor Scott Walker, is up for re-election in a spring 2020 race that is projected to see a high turnout for Democrats. So even if that turnout is high, liberals have lost their chance for a majority.

Hagedorn has been involved in conservative politics in the Badger State for years, having previously been a member of the Kenosha County Republican Party and a law clerk for conservative Justice Michael Gableman after he won election in 2008, which at the time solidified the court’s conservative tilt. Walker appointed him to the state appeals court in 2015.

Hagedorn had come under fire leading up to the April 2 election, particularly after a blog post from his law school days resurfaced in which he called Planned Parenthood a “wicked organization” and compared homosexuality to bestiality.

He also found himself playing defense against revelations that he was paid $3,000 to give speeches for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group that has supported criminalizing sodomy and sterilizing transgender people.

In the days leading up to the election, Hagedorn flipped the story on those attacking his comments and actions, calling them assaults on his evangelical Christian faith.

As a candidate, however, Hagedorn lacked some of the support conservatives usually enjoy in Wisconsin. While Hagedorn had endorsements from the National Rifle Association and Wisconsin Right to Life, the Wisconsin Realtors Association, a state group that typically donates to conservatives, revoked its support of him in light of his comments regarding the LGBTQ community and asked him to give back $18,000 it had previously donated to his campaign.

Wisconsin liberals were confident in Neubauer going into the election, in part due to the 2018 midterm elections in which Democrats won every statewide office, including the governorship and attorney general’s office.

In her concession statement, Neubauer referenced a large donation Hagedorn received at the 11th hour as crucial to the race’s outcome, even though the funding levels for each candidate throughout the race were similar.

“I hope future races see less influence from outside special interests,” Neubauer’s statement said. “With more than $1 million poured in against me with false and misleading attacks in the final week alone, it’s not hard to imagine that is what made the difference.”

The advertising for Hagedorn that came after that $1 million funding boost featured an endorsement from President Donald Trump and compared the attacks on Hagedorn to the attacks U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh faced regarding sexual assault allegations against him.

President Trump congratulated Hagedorn on his victory on April 5, tweeting support for his “surprise win over a well funded Liberal Democrat…for a very important Supreme Court seat.”

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