Lisa Neubauer for high court

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Politics aside, Neubauer's credentials are superior over her opponent.

ON APRIL 2 voters across Wisconsin will choose a new justice of the Supreme Court to succeed Shirley Abrahamson, who held her position since 1976 as justice or chief justice.

The two candidates are both members of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals - Chief Judge Lisa Neubauer and Judge Brian Hagedorn.

And, yes, we know, the race is supposedly nonpartisan. Wink. Nod.

Partisans on the left and the right absolutely do not approach these elections that way. While neither candidate runs with a "D" or an "R" by their name, here's how it breaks down: Neubauer is the choice of partisan Democrats, and Hagedorn is the choice of partisan Republicans.

THE STAKES ARE HIGH, because in the last Supreme Court election Rebecca Dallet won and essentially flipped a seat previously held by conservative Justice Michael Gableman. That changed the conservative advantage on the court from 5-2 to 4-3.

Abrahamson has been identified with the progressive wing of the court, so unless another flip takes place next month the Supreme Court race scheduled in 2020 - when incumbent Justice Daniel Kelly will be on the ballot - will set up a showdown for control of the court for the first time in many cycles.

Readers may remember that was the openly acknowledged reasoning behind a lame-duck legislative effort to change the date for the 2020 Supreme Court election, because it is set to coincide with a high-turnout presidential primary vote. Conservative legislators worried high turnout would put Kelly's election more at risk. Voters should be glad cooler heads prevailed and the lame-duck legislature backed away from that sort of blatant partisan tampering with an election.

SO WHAT ABOUT the race between Hagedorn and Neubauer? Longtime readers will recall this newspaper has been consistent in strenuously opposing the efforts of partisans on both sides trying to control and, theoretically, rig the courts to their advantage. It is our belief most people get more politics than they want from the executive and legislative branches of government and yearn for impartial courts and judges who are fair referees, not just politicians in black robes.

So let's start with a given every voter should know going in - Neubauer is the closet choice of the left, and Hagedorn is the closet choice of the right.

Sad, but true. For some voters, the pure partisans, that's all they care to know. Others - most, we hope - may be willing to ignore the politics.

NEXT, LET'S GO to experience. Neubauer first was elected to the Court of Appeals in 2008 and was re-elected in 2014. She was presiding judge of her district from 2009-2015 before being chosen chief judge of the Court of Appeals. Previously, she clerked for federal Judge Barbara Crabbe and worked as a litigator in private practice. Hagedorn clerked for Gableman, worked in private practice and was Gov. Scott Walker's chief legal counsel before being appointed in 2015 to the appellate court by Walker.

Thus, the edge in judicial experience belongs to Neubauer.

During the campaign blood has been drawn from Hagedorn over allegations of extreme positions toward gays. In a blog, Hagedorn once compared being gay to bestiality. He was associated with the founding of a school that banned gay students and educators. He has argued that criticism of him over such issues amounts to attacking his faith, and has pledged to separate his personal views from his judicial decisions. Some have found that unconvincing - for example, the Wisconsin Realtors Association pulled its endorsement over Hagedorn's views.

AS FOR KEY endorsements: Neubauer is endorsed by more than 300 current and former judges, while Hagedorn has 6, according to a Feb. 28 post by WisPolitics.com.

And a final point. Transparency matters, not just to journalists, but for the general public. Neubauer wants to reopen Supreme Court rule-making conferences - closed in 2017 after decades of being open to the public, on the 5-2 vote of the conservative majority - while Hagedorn has refused to commit.

All in all, this is not a hard choice. Chief Appellate Judge Lisa Neubauer is the better candidate and we endorse her election to succeed Shirley Abrahamson on the Supreme Court.

Now, 2020 may be a different matter with higher stakes. Like it or not, politics will take center stage if the 4-3 control of the court is on the ballot. Stay tuned.

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