State Senate Approves Chief Justice Selection Amendment

Assembly Will Take Up Amendment On Thursday

Sen. Jon Erpenbach said the amendment "has nothing to do with what we were elected to do." Photo: Richard Hurd (CC-BY).

Republican state senators have passed a measure that would change how Wisconsin elects its Supreme Court chief justice, a move Democrats say is an attempt to remove current Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson from the position.

Wisconsin’s Constitution has long held that the court’s most senior justice is its chief justice. Right now, that’s Abrahamson, who’s considered one of the court’s liberals. The measure that passed the Senate would have the chief selected by his or her peers. Practically speaking, that likely means the court’s conservative majority will elect one of its own.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said Republicans were wrong to meddle with a branch of government that’s supposed to be independent from the Legislature.

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“I do know this has nothing to do with what we were elected to do, and I do know that this has everything to do with Shirley and nobody else,” said Erpenbach.

Hazelhurst Republican Tom Tiffany said he thinks the proposed change will make for a better-run court, but said that Wisconsin voters will have the final say.

“They are going to decide whether this provision shall go into our Constitution,” said Tiffany.

Republicans said the plan would help the court be more functional. It heads next to the Assembly this week and then to voters in April.