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Voters Approve Constitutional Amendment On Supreme Court Chief Justice Selection

Members Of Supreme Court Will Now Vote For Their Chief

Ann Althouse (CC-BY-NC-SA)

Wisconsin voters have approved a constitutional amendment changing the way the chief justice of the state Supreme Court gets chosen.

The seven-member court will now vote to decide their chief justice. For the past 126 years, the position has gone to the most senior member of the court.

The voters’ support for the amendment will likely lead to a new chief justice for the state’s highest court. Shirley Abrahamson has served as chief justice since 1996 and is the longest-serving chief justice in Wisconsin history. She is viewed as part of a liberal minority.

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Opponents to the amendment said the Republican-controlled Legislature targeted Abrahamson for removal by putting the question on the ballot.

Supporters, however, say having the justices pick their leader will make the court a better-run institution. Only seven states decide chief justice by seniority, while 22 have justices decide.

Howard Schweber, University of Wisconsin-Madison law and political science professor, said the change in who is chief justice won’t have immediate consequences.

“I don’t think, for example, any particular cases will come out differently as a result. It’s more a matter of the management of the court, the relationship among the justices and the extent to which the currently dominant conservative block really has almost unlimited leverage to control the way in which the court works,” he said.

While the chief justice question was officially non-partisan, Republican lawmakers added it to the ballot and the state’s largest business group spent $600,000 campaigning for it.