Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Brian Hagedorn is, by all objective standards, exceptionally qualified to sit on the bench. He earned his law degree from Northwestern and began his career at a prestigious firm in Milwaukee. He went on to clerk for a justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, serve as an assistant attorney general for the Wisconsin Justice Department, and then spent five years as the governor’s chief legal counsel. In 2015, he was appointed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.
But really, who cares? After all, objectivity is increasingly (and to our detriment as a society) being thrust aside in favor of partisan attacks, fearmongering, and outright deception. And Judge Hagedorn is experiencing it firsthand. He has been fiercely smeared by hostile activists and complicit media outlets.
What could cause his candidacy to be denounced so thoroughly? The answer: Serving in the legal profession while professing a Christian faith.
Judge Hagedorn’s detractors — who, ironically, attack him in the name of advancing “equality” — are guilty of applying a religious test that’s discriminatory and at odds with Article VI of the U.S. Constitution. These words might first been have been penned with quill and ink, but the message is timeless: No public office-holder should be screened, tested, or maligned for his or her personal religious convictions.
Unfortunately, Judge Hagedorn’s detractors seem to be taking their cues not from the Constitution, but from a partisan playbook that has been utilized in recent U.S. Senate Judiciary hearings. There, a handful of senators have questioned and sought to discredit nominees based on their Catholic or Evangelical backgrounds and beliefs. Perhaps most memorably, Sen. Dianne Feinstein chided judicial nominee Amy Coney Barrett for her devout faith: “The dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for [sic] years in this country.”
Judge Hagedorn’s critics — were they as tolerant as they profess to be — would steer clear of unconstitutional litmus tests that exclude people of faith from the public square. Judge Hagedorn’s five-year judicial track record makes clear that he understands the duties of the job for which he’s running: It is not the role of a judge to impose his or her personal opinions upon the law; a judge’s job is simply to impartially apply the law as written.
Since Judge Hagedorn has been pilloried for association with a so-called “hate group,” it’s worth setting the record straight on my law firm, Alliance Defending Freedom. This label came from the Southern Poverty Law Center. Such unwarranted attacks are not new territory for the SPLC, a group that recently paid $3.375 million and issued a public apology to settle a threatened defamation lawsuit, after the group falsely labeled Muslim reformer Maajid Nawaz an anti-Muslim extremist.
So who is Alliance Defending Freedom? For the past 25 years, ADF has defended constitutionally guaranteed freedoms for a diverse range of Americans who are seeking to live their everyday lives consistent with their conscience. The Washington Post has described ADF as the “legal powerhouse that keeps winning at the Supreme Court,” with nine victories in the past eight years. In fact, according to independent analysis published last fall, ADF emerged as a front-runner at the Supreme Court, the law firm with the highest number of wins in First Amendment cases and the top-performing firm overall during the 2013-2017 terms.
ADF also helps prepare highly qualified law students for careers marked with integrity and excellence. That’s the mission behind our Blackstone Legal Fellowship and the genesis of Judge Hagedorn’s association with ADF. On account of his outstanding track record of service to the state of Wisconsin, Judge Hagedorn was a natural choice to speak to the students at Blackstone about the value of a career in public service.
This isn’t Joseph McCarthy’s America, and Judge Hagedorn deserves a candidacy free from unconstitutional and destructive tests. Only then can Wisconsin voters truly move forward toward a more tolerant and inclusive future.
Timothy Chandler is senior counsel and senior vice president of strategic relations and training for Alliance Defending Freedom.
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