Justice Brian Hagedorn puts the law above partisanship
Justice Brian Hagedorn puts the law above partisanship

Justice Brian Hagedorn puts the law above partisanship

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At least one justice on the seven-member Wisconsin Supreme Court is showing flashes of independence.

That’s good to see, and long overdue. We wish more of Hagedorn’s black-robed colleagues would similarly prioritize the law over the interests of their partisan pals and campaign supporters.

Justice Brian Hagedorn dissented last week in the 4-3 majority opinion striking down an extension of Gov. Tony Evers’ “safer at home” restrictions on public gatherings and businesses.

Liberal-backed justices on the high court predictably sided with the Democratic governor in the high-profile, partisan-fueled dispute, while most of the conservative justices backed the Republican-run Legislature’s lawsuit.

Hagedorn was the exception. Again.

“The people have not empowered this court to step in and impose our wisdom on proper governance during this pandemic,” Hagedorn wrote in his dissent. “We are a court of law. We are not here to do freewheeling constitutional theory. We are not here to step in and referee every intractable political stalemate.”

He stood for judicial restraint. That’s something conservatives often say they believe in — until a Democratic governor is doing something the Republican-run Legislature doesn’t like.

“The Legislature may have buyer’s remorse for the breadth of discretion it gave” to the state Department of Health Services, Hagedorn continued. “But those are the laws it drafted; we must read them faithfully whether we like them or not.”

This is the second time since Hagedorn joined the court in August that he has conspicuously veered from his conservative peers. In January, he refused to speed a decision to purge as many as 200,000 people from voting rolls, a case brought by conservatives.

It only makes sense that a good judge, from time to time, will upset some of the people who supported the judge for election. That’s because Wisconsin’s laws have been drafted over decades by legislatures of varying political persuasions. So if a judge is closely interpreting the intent of those laws — rather than playing politics — his rulings shouldn’t neatly and consistently align with one political party or the other.

Unfortunately, modern judicial elections in Wisconsin have devolved into special-interest spending sprees, with partisans expecting judges to always rule in their favor.

“Conservatives have been snookered,” former state Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, complained about Hagedorn in a tweet last week.

Jarchow confuses the roles of a lawmaker and a judge. A lawmaker is a partisan who represents constituents. Judges are supposed to be nonpartisan and apply the law as written, without partisan consideration.

Hagedorn appears to be doing just that, and we wish more of his colleagues in black robes would do the same.


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