Five Wisconsin voters are asking to intervene in a lawsuit brought by Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson challenging a ballot measure approved April 7th to change the way the Chief Justice is selected. The voters supported the change, which is likely to result in the top judge’s demotion if upheld.
Two of the voters are leaders of the conservative group Citizens for Responsible Government, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article. The five “are represented by the same law firm hired by Wisconsin Club for Growth to fight an investigation into alleged illegal coordination between Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign and other conservative groups,” the article said.
The voters want to get the lawsuit dismissed. They contend, according to the Associated Press, that Chief Justice Abrahamson may not proceed with her lawsuit because she still holds her post, and that a federal court where she filed her lawsuit does not have jurisdiction because a state issue is involved. A hearing is set for April 21 in the case; Chief Justice Abrahamson belongs to the court’s liberal-leaning minority.
One day after voter passage of a referendum to change the way the Wisconsin Chief Justice is selected, sitting Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to hold on to her post.
The proposed constitutional amendment would empower the court’s seven justices to choose the Chief Justice, instead of that position going to the most senior justice automatically. Engineered by Republican legislators, the amendment has been seen likely as leading to the demotion of Chief Justice Abrahamson, one of the court’s liberal minority.
According to the Associated Press, the lawsuit contends that an immediate change to the selection process would alter the 10-year term to which she was elected as Chief Justice, violating her due process and equal protection rights. “The speculation that this somehow shortens her tenure, she felt was wrong,” her lawyer, Robert S. Peck, told The New York Times. Read more
As voters went to the polls in Wisconsin, a Marshall Project article focused on the “soft-on-crime” accusations that were traded by rivals for a Wisconsin Supreme Court seat. This kind of increasingly typical campaigning occurred even though spending in the contest did not soar, the article said in quoting data from Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice:
“The race has not been as expensive as many predicted with more than $612,000 spent on TV ads, according to research by the election watchdog group Justice At Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.
“But that has not meant a shortage of the ‘soft-on-crime’ campaigning now typical in state supreme court elections, even as politicians from both parties have begun to call for less draconian sentencing and other criminal justice reforms. Recent research suggests such advertisements not only influence the outcome of judicial races but may make future justices marginally less likely to rule in favor of a defendant in controversial cases.”
A flurry of last-minute TV advertising was booked for and against Wisconsin’s Question 1, a referendum to force a change in the way the Chief Justice is selected, in the run-up to Election Day on Tuesday.
“The ad spending on Question 1 remains very heavily weighted toward its supporters, who represent corporate interests in the state,” said Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, in a statement. “The pro-big business side has vastly out-raised and outspent its opponents in order to convince voters that Question 1 is a neutral measure, when in fact it would inject more politics into the court.” Read more
Although Tuesday’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election is nonpartisan, there are clear ideological divides over the rival candidates and also over a ballot item that if passed could likely strip the liberal chief justice of her title, the New York Times reported:
“Not so long ago, elections for the Wisconsin Supreme Court were relatively quiet, and candidates prided themselves on gaining bipartisan support. But following a national trend that has been exacerbated by years of bitter legislative fights over Wisconsin’s political identity, the state’s judicial races have taken on some of the partisan trappings of elections for Congress or the governor’s office.”
The Times said, “Money has poured in from beyond Wisconsin, and harsh advertisements have filled the airwaves” in the race between incumbent Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, supported by some prominent Democrats and by organized labor, and Judge James Daley, backed by Republican Party donations and declaring himself a “conservative jurist.” Read more
A lopsided, late-hour ad race has emerged over a ballot initiative that would likely demote Wisconsin Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson if it is passed on April 7th, Justice at Stake reported on Friday.
Vote Yes for Democracy has received all of its reported funds to date, $600,000, from a historic big spender in state judicial elections, the Issues Mobilization Council of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. Vote Yes has booked TV ads supporting Question 1 in the amount of $116,025, and earlier reported radio ad expenditures of $189,084. By contrast, Make Your Vote Count, funded by the Greater Wisconsin Committee, has booked TV ads opposing Question 1 in the amount of $87,655.
“The brawl over Wisconsin’s courts has moved to a new arena,” said JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg. “But many Wisconsin residents still don’t realize that Question 1 is a political effort to tilt the court to one side, not a good-government measure.” Read more
Given that Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election on April 7th does not place ideological control of the court in play, it has captured less attention and spending than some other recent Wisconsin high court contests. Conservatives claim a majority of the current justices.
Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg offered that theory for a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article that was headlined, “High court race attracts less interest, outside money than expected.” In the race that pits challenger James Daley against incumbent Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, outside interests have largely stayed on the sidelines, with the exception of the Greater Wisconsin Committee spending $100,000 on an ad criticizing Daley. He is a Rock County Circuit Court judge.
Justice Bradley has led in fundraising, raising about $756,000 compared to $288,000 for Daley. The incumbent has repeated a theme that she wants to keep partisan politics off the court, while the challenger has maintained that she is a “judicial activist.” In other coverage, WMTV reported, “NBC15 sits down with both Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates”; and the Oshkosh Northwestern had an article, “High court hopeful Daley: Uphold law; don’t interpret it.”
Wisconsin residents will soon see TV ads supporting a ballot measure, Question 1, paid for with the help of a pro-big business group well-known for high spending in judicial elections. The advertiser, Vote Yes for Democracy, is bankrolled by the Issues Mobilization Council of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which in prior years has spent heavily to help elect conservative Wisconsin Supreme Court justices. Vote Yes’s initial TV ad buys promoting Question 1 total more than $81,000, according to a Justice at Stake analysis of Federal Communications Commission records.
“We have been accustomed to the WMC airing TV ads in Supreme Court elections for years now,” said Bert Brandenburg, Executive Director of Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan group that studies judicial elections. “They have been high spenders, and this initial foray into ad purchases for this measure may signal a last-minute surge to come. It’s also interesting that after spending heavily in prior years to help elect justices, WMC is apparently betting that their best chance to cement control of the court now is to topple the current Chief Justice.”
Question 1 would force a change in how the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court is chosen. It is widely regarded as an effort to unseat Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, and has advanced with heavy business and conservative backing. (See Gavel Grab.)
A proposed constitutional amendment to change the way the Wisconsin Chief Justice is selected will be the subject of advertising for and against it, sponsored by rival groups, in the run-up to the April 7 referendum.
If passed, the Republican-drafted amendment likely would result in demotion of Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a member of the court’s liberal minority. It would allow the court’s members to choose the Chief Justice instead of conferring that job on the justice of greatest seniority. Critics say the measure is a partisan power grab, while supporters say it enables democracy.
Vote Yes for Democracy, a pro-amendment group, reported it has raised $600,000 from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, according to a Madison.com article. Vote Yes for Democracy reported spending $189,100 on radio advertising, and its spokesman said TV advertising is coming.
The Greater Wisconsin Committee, meanwhile, released a radio ad against the proposed amendment. In it, former state Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske urged a “No” vote. Make Your Vote Count, an anti-amendment group, said it raised $80,000 for the effort, Madison.com reported. Read more
Opponents of a proposed constitutional amendment to change the method of selecting the Wisconsin Chief Justice see it as “a thinly veiled mechanism to neuter” sitting Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, the Associated Press said.
Former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, a Democrat, said the ballot item initiated by the Republican-led legislature smacked of a partisan power grab. The current Chief Justice is the entire court system’s most valuable player, with long experience and depth of knowledge, she said. “When did it become bad in Wisconsin to be senior, mature, experienced and to be well-qualified?”
Its supporters say the amendment would enhance democracy. The Chief Justice role now goes to the justice with the greatest seniority on the bench. The amendment would have the seven justices elect the leader. The AP said Chief Justice Abrahamson, a member of the court’s liberal minority, would almost certainly be replaced if it is approved on April 7. Read more