Liberal Jurists Shouldn’t Be Woke

I would like liberals to have a majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. But I would also like those liberals to be fair-minded, to follow the law even when it leads them to conclusions that they don’t personally like, and most definitely to not be captured by hard-left fundamentalism.

I’m not sure that the three liberal justices we have right now would meet those tests. I found the liberals’ dissenting opinion in one case especially troubling.

In that case, a transgender woman wanted to change her legal name to match her new feminine identity, but because she was a registered sex offender (for an offense she committed when she was a man) the law prohibits a name change. The conservative majority ruled that the law on name changes was clear and designed to protect public safety so that offenders couldn’t escape screening. They further pointed out that the woman could simply go by whatever chosen name she wanted on an informal basis, which is about 99% of social interactions anyway.

But justices Ann Walsh Bradley, Jill Karofsky and Rebecca Dallet dissented. They essentially placed woke hard-left orthodoxy over public safety. It was more important to them that the transgender woman be able to express her new gender identity than it was to protect the public from sex offenders.

In April, I’d like to see Wisconsin add a liberal who is the reflection of conservative Justice Brian Hagedorn to the
Supreme Court. Someone willing to disagree with his liberal colleagues when he thinks they’re wrong on the law.

A related issue came up in another case. This one involves a suit filed by the conservative law firm WILL against the Madison school district. The district has a formal policy that clearly tells its employees to refer to transitioning students by their legal names when communicating with parents even if the student has asked to be referred to by another name or gender pronoun at school. Only the student can give them permission to use their new chosen name or pronouns with parents. Essentially, the district’s policy requires teachers to keep parents in the dark about their own child’s desire to transition to the other gender. It empowers the child over the parent.

In my view, it’s an awful policy that should be struck down, but that wasn’t the question the Court decided to address. Instead what they had in front of them was a procedural issue. WILL’s clients in this case are parents of Madison school kids and they wanted to remain anonymous for fear of harrassment from transgender activists. The Court ruled that their names had to be revealed to the trial court and to the opposing attorneys but not to the public. In this case, the three liberals sided with swing vote Justice Brian Hagedorn. I agree with them, but I would go even further. The public has a right to know who is asking that a public policy, even a severely flawed one, be reversed. And if this results in some harsh criticism, well sorry, but that’s life.

But here’s the thing. That case is likely to find its way back to the Supreme Court and, based on the sex offender decision, I would fully expect the liberals to back the school district. In fact, in the plaintiffs’ filings some of the anonymous parents say they are Christians who would try to dissuade their kids from transitioning if they knew of it. I disagree with that tack myself, but it’s not for me — or for the Court — to make that decision. It should be a family matter that the parents should be involved in. But given liberals’ knee-jerk reactions against conservative Christians, there’s every reason to believe that the liberals will choose identity politics activism over parental rights. If a fourth lock-step, orthodox liberal is added to the Court, they will no doubt uphold the school district and diminish parental rights.

This is another reflection of my fundamental differences with the Democratic left. I am, generally speaking, a liberal who gets off the liberal train at the identity politics station. It seems to me that both the law and the public interest were clear in the name change case and yet the liberals found a way to side with transgender activists for political or ideological reasons. I expect they’ll do the same when the parental rights versus identity ideology question gets back to them.

There is a race for an open Court seat next April. I would like to see the liberals gain a 4-3 majority, but I hope that that liberal is the reflection of Hagedorn, someone willing to vote with the other side when he thinks they’re right.

Want to read more curiously conservative views from a liberal? Pick up a copy of Light Blue: How center-left moderates can build an enduring Democratic majority.

Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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