“Equal justice under the law.”
That’s the phrase engraved on the front of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington.
Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice-elect Brian Hagedorn spoke at last weekend’s state Republican Party convention in Oshkosh. He should not have done so.
He shouldn’t have said, as the Associated Press reported, that Republicans who backed his successful run this year “saved the Supreme Court.”
He shouldn’t have told the Republicans gathered that his win shows that conservative Justice Dan Kelly can win his race next year. He shouldn’t have said, with regard to Kelly’s campaign, “you can do hard things, we can win this race.”
Those are overtly political statements by Hagedorn, who will take his seat on the state’s highest court in August.
If you find yourself indifferent to Hagedorn’s statements, ask yourself this: If Justice Shirley Abrahamson had spoken in such a manner at the state Democratic Party convention, would you feel the same way?
A liberal-leaning justice shouldn’t speak at a Democratic convention, either. Change “Hagedorn” to “Abrahamson” and “Republicans” to “Democrats” in those sentences and it would have been just as wrong.
Our judicial branch, whether federal or state, is officially independent. That’s how it should be.
We know that’s just not how it is, that when you have elected judges you have conservatives donating money to conservative-leaning judicial candidates, and liberals donating to liberal-leaning candidates.
But why do such campaign donations occur?
When you donate to, or vote for, a candidate in a partisan race — state Legislature, governor, Congress or the presidency — you do so because you agree with the political positions the candidate has taken. That’s fine.
But we expect judges “shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour.” That’s from Article III of the U.S. Constitution. We also expect our Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial to be preserved.
When judges speak at political-party conventions, it calls into question their impartiality.
When judges are overtly partisan, how can we expect equal justice under the law?