Supreme Court Justice-elect Brian Hagedorn on Saturday thanked GOP activists not just for his April victory, but for “fighting for what’s right.”
Hagedorn, who will take office in August, told delegates he faced a campaign unlike any other candidate for state Supreme Court. He said his character, his integrity and his faith were attacked.
But when that happened, he said, GOP activists came to his rescue, and he credited them with his win over fellow Appeals Court Judge Lisa Neubauer.
“When I got punched, you were the ones who punched back,” Hagedorn said to applause. “When I got knocked down, you grabbed the baton and kept running it with it.”
Hagedorn faced a series of questions in the leadup to the April election over his past writings in law school that some labeled anti-gay and his association with a Christian school that prohibits staff and students from being in same-sex relationships.
Following those revelations, some traditional GOP groups decided against spending money in the race. Hagedorn said those “insiders” decided the Constitution wasn’t fighting for.
“All of you stood up and said ‘Yes, yes, it is,’” Hagedorn said.
State Dem spokeswoman Courtney Beyer criticized Hagedorn’s decision to address a partisan event.
“It is highly inappropriate that an elected judge would risk his integrity and the trust of Wisconsin voters by speaking at a blatantly partisan event,” Beyer said.
Liberal Supreme Court candidates Tim Burns, an attorney, and Rebecca Dallet, then a Milwaukee County judge, addressed the Dem state convention in 2017 as they prepared to run in the 2018 election.
The state GOP has become a significant player in recent Supreme Court races and was the biggest donor to conservative candidate Michael Screnock in the 2018 race, making $412,905 in donations as the Sauk County judge lost to Dallet.
This year, the party made $134,168 in in-kind donations to Hagedorn, who transferred $150,000 to the state GOP in the weeks leading up to the April 2 election. By law, a donor can’t earmark money given to a committee, and Hagedorn’s campaign said it was transferred for GOTV and party activities.
Hagedorn pledged once he gets to the court, he will defend the Constitution, the freedom of speech, the right to bear arms and “yes, I will defend everyone’s religious liberty.” He also warned some of his rulings might not please the crowd because he will adhere to the Constitution, not politics.
He also called on activists to help conservative Justice Daniel Kelly win a full 10-year term on the court next year. Kelly, who was appointed to the bench by former Gov. Scott Walker, faces the prospect of being on the ballot at the same time as the Dem presidential primary.
Hagedorn told activists they can’t take elections off and they need to keep Kelly on the court. He also acknowledged it will be a tough race.
“But because we won this race, I think it becomes a winnable race, and I don’t want you to forget you can do hard things, so we can win this race,” Hagedorn said.
Hagedorn told WisPolitics.com after his speech that he was attending the convention as an extension of his campaign, not as an elected official. He doesn’t plan to attend political events while he’s a sitting justice unless he’s asked to campaign for someone else or as a candidate again.
“I’m here as a candidate, not a justice,” Hagedorn said.