Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

Re: Shirley, You Can’t Be Serious

On a spot check, it’s not surprising to discover that, contrary to Wisconsin chief justice Shirley Abrahamson’s brazen lawsuit, the public debate over the referendum to alter the method for determining the chief justice of the Wisconsin supreme court reflected a broad understanding that the proposed change, if adopted, would apply right away. Take, for example, this report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (emphasis added):

Groups called on voters Monday to reject a proposed amendment to the Wisconsin constitution that would allow state Supreme Court justices to select their chief justice, rather than have the position go to the most senior member of the court. 

If approved April 7, the change is expected to dislodge Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson from the court’s top job. Abrahamson would remain on the high court but no longer have administrative control of it.…

The groups represented at the news conference said the Republican-backed effort was a partisan attack on Abrahamson

“It’s quite clear Wisconsin is reaching a meltdown stage,” said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, who called the proposal “pure political hardball.”

Abrahamson is 81 years old, and her current term as a justice does not expire until 2019, the year in which she turns 86. No one would call it “political hardball” to defer her displacement until then.

See also this Madison television news editorial that, in the course of opposing the referendum, complains that it is motivated by a “desire by some to remove current Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson from serving as chief justice.”

(If anyone can show me any evidence of the reading that Abrahamson is now advancing, I’d be interested.)

Ed Whelan — Ed Whelan is a leading commentator on nominations to the Supreme Court and the lower courts and on issues of constitutional law.

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