RACINE — Eight days after a tight election race for a 10-year seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, Lisa Neubauer conceded to Brian Hagedorn Wednesday.
Neubauer, chief judge of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals and a Racine resident, said she called Hagedorn Wednesday and “wished him the best in his tenure on the state’s highest court.”
Neubauer thanked supporters and volunteers, saying she was grateful for their work, energy and commitment. “I will continue my service on the Court of Appeals and together, we will make Wisconsin stronger,” Neubauer stated in release issued by Neubauer for Justice.
Hagedorn, also an Appeals Court judge, declared victory the day after the election — April 3 — while rumors swirled that a potential recount was looming.
Following Neubauer’s concession, Hagedorn took to Twitter Wednesday and issued a statement about what he called a “historic” election win, acknowledging that Neubauer had called him and said she was not pursuing a recount.
“The race is finished, and we have won,” Hagedorn wrote. “As I prepare to assume the position of justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, I know that this means you have called me to serve.
“I love Wisconsin, and I will always remember that I am a servant of the law and the great people of this state,” said Hagedorn, an Oconomowoc resident.”
Close race, high impact
Results of the April 2 election showed that Hagedorn won 50.25 percent of the vote and Neubauer received 49.75 percent of the vote — a 0.5 percent margin. Election results show that Hagedorn won the race by just shy of 6,000 votes.
According to Wisconsin law, a candidate may request a recount when the total votes are within 1 percent of the winner’s vote total. Because the difference between the votes was not 0.25 percent, Neubauer would have paid for the cost of a recount.
The election was high stakes for progressives, as the Wisconsin Supreme Court already had a conservative majority of 4-3. Neubauer’s loss increases that majority to 5-2. Hagedorn’s victory ensures that, even if the conservative-backed Justice Dan Kelly runs and loses his race next year, the court will remain dominated by conservatives through at least 2023.
That outcome will likely extinguish the possibility of the expansion of voter rights, revisiting controversial cases such as Act 10, the 2011 law that limited the power of public-sector unions, or tempering the Republican advantage over drawing the state’s political maps in 2021.
Liberals say conservative control could also mean the court will prioritize religious interests over public education, and would be unlikely to prioritize cases challenging discrimination.
“Judge Hagedorn said that he was running to get partisan influences out of the courts, and I hope he lives up to his promise,” Neubauer said. “Our courts are strongest when politics are set aside and we follow the law, regardless of personal views.”
Conservatives say the legal arguments behind the cases challenging controversial Republican laws have been weak, and that a conservative court will simply raise the bar for the caliber of arguments the court will entertain. They also say Hagedorn’s likely victory insulates conservatives from having hard-won legislative overhauls rolled back.
“Throughout this campaign, I said the job of a justice is to say what the law is, not what the law should be,” Hagedorn said in his Twitter-issued statement. “I said that partisan politics has no place at the Wisconsin Supreme Court, that I would protect the public, and that our job is to uphold the Constitution as written. I meant every word and I will endeavor to fulfill these promises with all my ability.”
The Hagedorn win also gives Republicans a boost of confidence heading into the 2020 presidential election year, with his victory coming after a string of stinging losses last year.
Republicans and Democrats alike pointed to the thin margin as a sign of how hotly contested Wisconsin will be in 2020. The tight race came after Republican Scott Walker lost the governor’s race by just over a point in 2018 and President Donald Trump carried Wisconsin by just under a point in 2016.
Neubauer said she will now work on a re-election bid, as her seat on the Court of Appeals will expire on July 31, 2020. Neubauer’s campaign manager, Tyler Hendricks, said Neubauer does not plan to mount another bid for Supreme Court.
Ed Fallone, a liberal-backed Marquette University Law School professor who led an unsuccessful bid for the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2013, recently announced he plans to mount another bid next year.
Neubauer was first appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2017 by former Gov. James Doyle, winning re-election in 2008 and 2014. She was then appointed as the Court of Appeals chief judge in 2015.
In August, Hagedorn will replace retiring Wisconsin Supreme Court judge Shirley Abrahamson, who was first woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court in 1976.
Hagedorn was appointed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals by former Gov. Scott Walker in 2015. He won a six-year term in 2017. Hagedorn was chief of legal counsel to Walker from 2011 to 2015. He was also assistant attorney general with the Wisconsin Department of Justice from 2010 to 2011.
“The race is finished, and we have won. As I prepare to assume the position of justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, I know that this means you have called me to serve.” Brian Hagedorn, Wisconsin Supreme Court justice-elect