The Wisconsin Constitution provides for a state supreme court of seven justices, each elected for a term of ten years. The justice with the longest tenure on the court is the chief justice.

In a move that many suggest is aimed at removing Justice Shirley Abrahamson from her role as Chief Justice, the GOP legislature has voted to amend the state constitution. Under their proposal the seven justices on the court would elect the chief justice every two years.

Since this amendment has already passed in two successive legislatures it will be on the ballot on April 7th for the voters to decide. If the vote is favorable the amendment will be added to the state constitution.

Of course the GOP denies that they are trying to remove Justice Abrahamson, one of the liberal minority on the court. But in her role as Chief Justice she has a fair amount of control on what happens in and around the court itself.

But what possible reason could they have for changing how the chief justice is selected? Well my goodness, it’s to enhance the democratic process in Wisconsin.

Republicans such as Rep. Rob Hutton of Brookfield, the proposal’s lead sponsor, say it’s a common-sense and democratic approach to running the court. They say that the measure is targeted at the court as an institution, not at Abrahamson specifically, and that only a handful of other states now rely on length of tenure to select a chief justice.

Other types of “organizations across the board never choose leadership purely on seniority,” Hutton told reporters before the debate.

Well, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin isn’t just any organization…and seniority isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We’ll get to that in a moment.

But who gets to vote for their own boss? I don’t (and if my boss should happen to read this, I just want her to know that she’s doing a great job) but sure once or twice I’ve had a boss that should have been voted off the island. Why should the state supreme court be any different.

Well, and I can’t find the reference, but someone in the assembly stated that the supreme court should have the same rights to pick their leadership as the state assembly and senate have…but I don’t see the speaker or majority leader roles in quite the same light and chief justice.

But here’s what Rep. Hutton said in 2013 when he first introduced the bill:

The measure’s sponsor, Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield), told Assembly committee members that the current system is outdated and that letting the justices choose their leader would be more democratic. He denied that his amendment to the state constitution was a tactic to marginalize Abrahamson or shift more power to conservatives.

“It not only minimizes the politics but it introduces more collaboration and cohesion,” Hutton said of his proposal.

Ok…so let’s talk about democracy for a moment…and that pesky seniority thing. State supreme court justices are elected by the voters in the State of Wisconsin by direct election. If they thought that Justice Abrahamson or any other justice was doing a poor job or didn’t reflect the values of Wisconsin or enforced the laws in Wisconsin, they would be voted out. The fact that Justice Abrahamson has been re-elected indicates that we have confidence in her and that under the constitution we accept that she is Chief Justice. Taking that vote out of our hands decreases democracy in the State of Wisconsin…and that seems to be a growing trend in the actions come out of Madison.

Here’s a more eloquent and thorough op ed piece on the topic from Bert Brandenburg published at JSOnline:

The proposed amendment gives a few judges — not the people of Wisconsin — the power to choose the state’s chief justice. For 125 years, Wisconsin’s constitution has promoted experienced leadership by providing that the longest-serving member of the court serve as chief justice. The proposed amendment would overturn this and allow a majority of the court’s judges to pick the chief. It’s being pressed by politicians from one party in a bid to elevate political partisanship over impartial justice on Wisconsin’s highest court.

The current chief justice, Shirley Abrahamson, was re-elected twice by voters who understood that she would remain chief if returned to office. But politicians who rammed this proposed amendment through the Legislature on party-line votes would usurp the choice Wisconsin voters made. Voters should reject this virtual coup attempt, because it represents the kind of political tampering with courts that threatens everyone’s right to a fair day in court.

But the GOP has much of the electorate snowed on the issue…right to the point where their followers clearly state the issue but make it seem like a virtue:

People will have power

In his commentary, Bert Brandenburg opposes changing the Wisconsin Constitution with regard to how the chief justice of the Supreme Court is selected (“Proposed amendment takes power from people,” March 26).

He states, “The proposed amendment gives a few judges — not the people of Wisconsin — the power to choose the state’s chief justice.” The reality is just the opposite.

Because Supreme Court justices are elected for 10-year terms, Wisconsin voters have an opportunity to replace the chief justice only once every 10 years. On the other hand, since there are seven justices elected at staggered terms, Wisconsin voters will have indirect input (emphasis mine) in the chief justice selection process at approximately two-year intervals with the election of new justices.

While there may be reasons to oppose the amendment, Brandenburg’s argument isn’t one of them.

Lawrence Kaplan
Milwaukee

I don’t know…indirect input doesn’t sound like democracy to me…I would rather get my own hands dirty.

I wonder what reasons Mr. Kaplan could come up with that are more reasoned and accurate than Mr. Brandenburg’s?

This is a frivolous amendment from petty politicians aimed at a respected jurist and doesn’t deserve the light of day.

Vote NO on April 7th!

P.S. I have some other thoughts on this…I will try to get them published later this week!

4 Responses to Selecting A Chief Justice In The State Of Wisconsin

  1. nonquixote says:

    Already said my piece, but thanks for keeping this up front to stir the leftish side of the electorate to get out on April 7 and vote. We are likely up against a staunch opposition turnout besides digital voting tabulation fraud.

    http://bloggingblue.com/2015/03/yet-another-lie-republicans-have-told-me/comment-page-1/#comment-147425

  2. John Harper says:

    Yes digital tabulation voting fraud! The same systems that overwhelmingly voted for Obama. When that happened everything was on the up and up. .. but when Walker wins election three times… digital tabulation voting fraud!!! Makes complete sense.

    • nonquixote says:

      So happy you agree that digital ballot counters and touch screen voting machines are vulnerable to unscrupulous manipulation.

      Nowhere was your disappeared from the state, pretending to be, “governor,” (just hand it over to Becky, quitter Palin style and a let her have a hand at it) campaigning on the taxpayer’s dime, mentioned in my comment. You really ought to shake the perpetual victim lying.

      Clue: The post is about the Chief Justice selection process and the WI Supreme court race. We’ve understood Walker bought his elections, lied to his supporters and was reinstated on a slim margin of a small percentage of the total eligible voters and we already knew that significantly more lefties turn out to vote in presidential election years.

      The WI election fraud appeared here:

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/07/david-prosser-wisconsin-supreme-court_n_846431.html

      Taped together ripped ballot bags from Waukesha two days after the Prosser/Kloppenburg race, should have all been tossed in the garbage. That’s why we should expect it again in the SC race and on the seniority referendum question.

  3. dragonlady says:

    If there is digital tabulation voting fraud, the perpetrators would want to use it only in an election where the polls show a small enough spread between candidates. The manipulated results could be explained away as a late change in voter sentiment or within the margin of error. A huge swing would invite scrutiny that might uncover the fraud and lead to a more secure method of casting and counting votes.

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