Gavel Grab

WI Voters Approve Change to Chief Justice Selection Method

Wisconsin voters approved on Tuesday a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way the Chief Justice is selected. Justice at Stake warned that in Wisconsin, the insulation intended to shield judges from political intimidation is diminishing.

The Republican-drafted amendment is likely to result in demotion of Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a member of the court’s liberal minority. It will allow the court’s members to choose the Chief Justice instead of conferring that job on the justice of greatest seniority, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“An interest group that couldn’t defeat Justice Abrahamson at the polls spent more than $600,000 targeting her through an innocuous-sounding ballot measure, and succeeded,” said JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg.

“For almost a decade, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court has endured a siege of special interest money and pressure from all sides, and the insulation that is supposed to protect judges from political bullying is wearing thin. The question going forward is how to reduce the growing pressure on Wisconsin’s judges to be accountable to politicians and interest groups instead of the law and the constitution.”

The referendum attracted some $600,000 in spending by a group set up by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. Opposition to it came from a group supported by $280,000 contributed by the Greater Wisconsin Committee. Another group opposing Question 1, Fair Courts Wisconsin, received backing of more than $4,700 from Justice at Stake and conducted outreach ahead of Election Day.

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