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Wisconsin Supreme Court hopeful defends views on gay rights



MILWAUKEE (AP) — A conservative candidate for Wisconsin Supreme Court whose views on gay rights have come under scrutiny said Wednesday the criticism he’s received is an unfair attack on his faith.

State Appeals Court Judge Brian Hagedorn blamed his opponents for making his personal beliefs part of his candidacy and insisted that he would be an impartial justice. Hagedorn is an evangelical Christian who helped start a private school where students can be expelled for being gay.

The school’s code of conduct covering employees, board members, parents and students prohibits “immoral sexual activity,” defined as anything “apart from the context of marriage between one man and one woman.”

“The articles are attacking a statement of faith,” Hagedorn said, answering questions at the Milwaukee Press Club.

He was referring to coverage about his private school and a personal blog he kept more than a decade ago, where he once opined that a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a Texas anti-sodomy law could lead to the legalization of bestiality.

“Everyone should be treated with dignity and respect. That’s the way I’ve conducted myself, that’s the way I’ve always conducted myself,” Hagedorn said, insisting that he doesn’t allow his personal beliefs to influence his judicial work. “What we have here are people who I think want me to sign on to a moral and religious code of themselves. And if I don’t sign on to it they’re saying I am not fit for public office.”

Hagedorn is running against state Appeals Court Judge Lisa Neubauer, who is backed by liberals. The April 2 contest gives liberals a chance to control the Supreme Court if they win this race and another seat up for election next year. Conservatives currently control the court 4-3.

The court could face big decisions on several partisan issues in the coming years, including on the next round of redistricting that follows the 2020 Census, lawsuits challenging the massive Foxconn Technology Group project backed by President Donald Trump, and attempts to undo laws that Republicans passed during a recent lame-duck session to weaken the incoming Democratic governor before he took office.

The race has drawn the attention of former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who announced Monday that his National Democratic Redistricting Committee will spend $350,000 to help Neubauer.

Also on Wednesday, the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee launched an attack ad against Hagedorn that it said was running on broadcast and cable channels as well as digitally. The spot says Hagedorn’s past comments and actions show that he can’t be trusted to be fair. The group last month reported spending $10,000 on a digital ad, but how much it was spending on the latest effort was not immediately disclosed.

Hagedorn previously argued that the U.S. Constitution gives deference to the states on whether to allow prayer in schools and that nothing in the Constitution bars a state from declaring its own official religion. But he reversed course in an email to the Journal Sentinel Tuesday, saying that “under current doctrine, it is clear no state may establish their own religion.”

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