State Supreme Court Election: A Clash of Judicial Views


Julie Arnold - Urban Milwaukee

Lisa Neubauer (Left) and Brian Hagedorn (Right)

Dustin Laufenburg, Writer

What is the State Supreme Court?

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is the highest appellate court in Wisconsin. “Appellate” means that the court deals with applications for decisions to be reversed. There are seven justices on the court; they are selected in nonpartisan elections, meaning neither candidate is running with a specific party. Though many judges are backed by a certain political party, they are expected to remain unbiased and make their decisions without considering personal or party views. After being elected, a judge serves for a 10 year term. The court has jurisdiction over all other Wisconsin courts, in addition to hearing new cases at the state level.

What does the Wisconsin Supreme Court do?

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has three primary functions.

  1. Case Deciding: the court ensures independent, open, fair and efficient resolution of disputes in accordance with the federal and state constitutions and laws. The court reviews written arguments from all involved parties in the case and schedules an oral argument, where justices can question the attorneys.
  2. Administrative: the court administers the entire Wisconsin Court System, ensuring that the system operates fairly and efficiently. This includings budgeting, long-range planning, managing regulations for courts, and more.
  3. Regulatory: the court regulates the legal profession in Wisconsin. They monitor lawyers’ compliance with Wisconsin’s legal education requirements, set Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys, and discipline judges according to established procedures, among other responsibilities.

What do I need to know about this election?

The two candidates in this election are Lisa Neubauer and Brian Hagedorn. They are running to replace current justice Shirley Abrahamson, a liberal-backed judge and the first woman to serve on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. If conservative-backed candidate Brian Hagedorn wins, it will expand the conservative majority on the court to 5-2. For information on each candidate’s experience, see the chart below.

          Lisa Neubauer          Brian Hagedorn
  • Liberal-backed candidate
  • 30 years of experience working in law
  • 10 years as an appellate court judge
  • As of October 21, 2018, she earned statewide support from 300+ judges
  • The Wisconsin Supreme Court appointed her to serve as the Chief Judge of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals in 2015 and again in May 2018
  • Graduated from the University of Chicago Law School with honors
  • Recipient of the Lynford Lardner Community Service Award
  • Former board member of the Racine Area United Way, the Equal Justice Coalition, and Legal Action of Wisconsin
  • Conservative-backed candidate
  • Chief legal counsel to Former Governor Scott Walker for almost 5 years
  • Roughly 50 endorsements listed on website
  • Currently serves on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals
  • Served on the Wisconsin Judicial Commission, which oversees enforcement of the judicial code of ethics
  • Graduated from Northwestern University School of Law
  • Regularly speaks to school and legal groups about rule of law, judicial philosophy, etc.

“I’m running because I care about making sure our court is fair, impartial, independent, and upholds the rule of law. Now, more than ever, we need our courts to protect the rights of all Wisconsinites and the fundamental principles of our democracy.” – Lisa Neubauer

“I pledge to you that I will apply the law fairly to everyone. I will interpret statutes and the constitution as they were written to be understood. And I will always remember that I am a servant of the law and the people.” – Brian Hagedorn

“It would be unfortunate to give me that [Democratic] label rather than look at my record on the court of appeals. My partisan views, or anybody’s partisan views, are not relevant to my decision making.” – Lisa Neubauer

“The heroin and meth epidemics are ravaging our communities. We must be part of the conversation. Our next justice must recognize that crime victims as well as those accused of crimes are protected in our constitution. And we must remember that law enforcement is our ally, not our enemy.” – Brian Hagedorn

Be sure to vote for your preferred candidate on April 2nd!