State Supreme Court elections: another symbol of hyperpartisanship

Though judges are not affiliated with a particular political party, recent Supreme Court elections in Wisconsin have become bitterly partisan battles over ideology. 

Image By: Kavitha Babu

Candidates for seats on state supreme courts refrain from taking on partisan labels, but the judicial races themselves are as partisan as it gets.

Despite their lack of official party affiliation, candidates for a seat on Wisconsin’s State Supreme Court attracted partisan interest groups. Judge Brian Hagedorn was backed by conservative organizations like the National Rifle Association and the Wisconsin Right to Life Political Action Committee. Though his opponent Lisa Neubauer has been outspoken on her view that the courts should be impartial and nonpartisan, she also earned wide liberal support for her campaign. It should also be noted that her husband is the former chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and her daughter, who attended a climate march alongside her, is a Democratic Wisconsin state legislator.

Hagedorn has argued that his evangelical Christian and anti-LGBTQ views do not influence his decision making as a judge. But when considering his record, that seems difficult to believe.

“The idea that homosexual behavior is different than bestiality as a constitutional matter is unjustifiable,” Hagedorn wrote in 2005.

Hagedorn also accepted thousands of dollars in payment for speeches from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative legal advocacy and training organization that has expressed support for designating homosexuality as a crime and state-sanctioned sterilization of transgender people. The group has also claimed that homosexuality is a threat to Christianity. Hagedorn’s campaign adviser said the speeches for which Hagedorn was paid were unrelated to the organization’s beliefs, but also criticized the Southern Poverty Law Center’s decision to designate the ADF as a hate group, calling the label “unfounded.” 

In addition, Hagedorn described Planned Parenthood as a “wicked organization… committed to killing babies.” With Hagedorn having so willingly and outwardly expressing his views on abortion, he could not possibly be considered impartial in any cases involving reproductive rights.

Hagedorn’s strong connection with evangelicals, anti-LGBTQ and pro-life beliefs make it difficult to believe that his personal views would not impact his ability to serve.

The candidates in this week’s State Supreme Court election were anything but neutral. Though Neubauer has been less inclined to reveal her personal views despite her attendance at a climate change march, it is easy to see that she and Hagedorn fall on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Though the American population has not necessarily become more polarized in its views on specific issues, animosity between conservatives and liberals, and especially Republicans and Democrats has steadily risen. As time passes, one side continues to grow in the belief that the other side is unreasonable. This makes all kinds of elections, including supposedly non-partisan judicial elections, increasingly divided.

The public now thinks of a state supreme court as “liberal-controlled” or “conservative-controlled,” when in reality it should be neither. This is harmful not only for our political discourse, but also for our democracy, which depends on an independent judiciary. 

A Neubauer victory means she replaces liberal-backed Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who is retiring. If Wisconsin elects another liberal-backed justice next year, when conservative-backed Justice Daniel Kelly’s term ends, liberals will then control the court. 

Though these elections are comprised of so-called nonpartisan candidates, liberals and conservatives choose a particular candidate each time. The mere fact that we think of a court as controlled by a political ideology that has won the competition against another tells us that we truly can no longer consider these elections to be nonpartisan.

Ashley is a sophomore studying journalism. Did you vote in this week's local elections? Do you think judicial elections have become partisan? Send all comments to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

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