MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate Brian Hagedorn said during a debate Tuesday that his Christian beliefs never affect how he rules as a judge. His opponent Lisa Neubauer, meanwhile, said her participation in a march organized by groups opposed to President Donald Trump wasn't partisan.
Hagedorn and Neubauer, who are both state appeals court judges, square off in the April 2 election. The race is officially nonpartisan, but liberals back Neubauer and conservatives support Hagedorn.
Much of the race has focused on the candidates' ties to partisan politics.
Hagedorn worked for five years as Republican former Gov. Scott Walker's chief attorney before Walker appointed him to the appeals court in 2015. He has defended blog posts he wrote in law school, including ones in which he called Planned Parenthood a "wicked organization" and denounced court rulings favoring gay rights by likening homosexuality to bestiality.
Hagedorn also founded a private Christian school in 2016 where gay students can be expelled.
Hagedorn said he has always treated everyone with respect and that no one could point to any rulings he's made to prove otherwise. When asked, Neubauer did not cite any examples of rulings affected by Hagedorn's personal beliefs.
"There's nothing wrong, there's nothing inconsistent with living out your faith in your own life and being a judge," Hagedorn said. He also said he would not need to withdraw from hearing cases that touch on homosexuality because "I'm not running on my personal beliefs."
Hagedorn criticized Neubauer for attending the 2017 People's Climate March in Madison with her daughter, Greta, who is now a Democratic state representative from Racine. The march was promoted as being in opposition to President Donald Trump's industry-friendly environmental agenda.
Neubauer said she was there to support her daughter.
"I did not view it as a partisan activity in any way," she said. "It was about climate change."
Neubauer did not answer directly when asked if she would withdraw from cases involving unions that have supported her campaign, instead saying people expect judges to be "fair, impartial and independent."
Hagedorn said Neubauer doesn't want to tell voters what her judicial philosophy is and suggested that her intent is to help liberals take over majority control of the court so they can push their partisan agenda. Hagedorn said he would adhere to the law as it's written and cited conservative U.S. Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch as role models.
Both Neubauer and Hagedorn said they would not attend partisan events if they win the race, although they have been attending them as candidates. Hagedorn has been going to Republican events, while Neubauer has been attending Democratic ones.
Conservatives currently have a 4-3 majority on the court. The winner will replace retiring liberal Justice Shirley Abrahamson. If Neubauer wins, liberals would be in position to take over majority control next year, when conservative Justice Dan Kelly's seat is up.