Gavel Grab

Abrahamson Sues to Keep Wisconsin Chief Justice Job

Chief Justice Abrahamson

Chief Justice Abrahamson

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.

The Associated Press mentioned that Justice at Stake said earlier a “siege of special interest money” and “big money hardball politics” led to adoption of the amendment. In related developments:

  • Another Associated Press article quoted JAS and the Brennan Center for Justice as reporting that TV ad spending on Tuesday’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election and on the referendum topped $1.1 million.
  • The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel quoted  Republican Sen. Steve Nass saying about the litigation, “Resorting to a lawsuit to block the will of the voters certainly calls into question her judicial temperament and competency to serve.” (Chief Justice Abrahamson’s lawyer, Peck, belongs to the JAS board of directors but did not bring the lawsuit in that role. He is president of the Center for Constitutional Litigation, P.C., a law firm devoted to appellate practice. Justice at Stake has had no involvement in the lawsuit.)
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