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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Supporters of new Wis. chief justice amendment want Abrahamson’s lawsuit tossed

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Apr 14, 2015

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MADISON, Wis. (Legal Newsline) - A coalition of Wisconsin voters want a federal lawsuit filed by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson to be dismissed.


“The office of chief justice of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin is not Justice Abrahamson’s personal property,” David B. Rivkin Jr., lead attorney for BakerHostetler LLP, said in a statement. The Washington, D.C., firm is representing the citizens.


The voters -- Chris Kliesmet, Orville Seymer, Chris Martinson, Vincient Schmuki and Dara Maillette -- filed motions to intervene and dismiss Monday.

According to the motions, the voters support the implementation of the amendment, which changes the method by which the state’s chief justice is selected, “without delay.”


“Movant-intervenors have the very same interest in implementation of the Amendment that Plaintiff Voters claim in Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s retention of the title of Chief Justice, their interest in implementing the amendment without delay would be impaired by a judgment in favor of plaintiffs, and that interest may not be adequately represented by the State of Wisconsin,” they wrote.


The amendment, approved by voters April 7, gives the high court’s justices the power to elect a chief justice for a term of two years. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Board is expected to certify the vote at its April 29 meeting.


Wisconsin was one of a handful of states where the most experienced, or tenured, justice serves as chief justice. In most states, justices vote on who will head the court.


Abrahamson has been chief justice since 1996. She was first elected to the court in 1979, and her current term expires in 2019.


State officials have speculated that the amendment will apply retroactively and be implemented immediately, before the end of Abrahamson’s term.


Abrahamson argues in her lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin Wednesday, that the change cannot be implemented until a “naturally-occurring” vacancy occurs.


The chief justice also argues that retroactive application of the new amendment raises “profound issues” of due process and equal protection.


It also would mean she would suffer a $8,000 pay cut.


“If the Court grants plaintiffs’ request for a declaration and injunction prohibiting the new amendment from taking effect because it would dilute the value of their 2009 votes, the Court would at the same time disfranchise and dilute the votes of the hundreds of thousands of Wisconsin residents who, like Movant-Intervenors, voted ‘yes’ on Question 1 with the expectation that it would allow the justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court to choose their own leader according to its terms,” the voters wrote in their motions.


They went as far as calling Abrahamson’s lawsuit “frivolous.”


“The Wisconsin legislature and Wisconsin voters knew what they were voting for, and it wasn’t to extend by four more years the broken seniority-based selection system that they sought to consign to the ash heap of history,” the voters wrote.


“Consistent with the requirements of Wisconsin law, their will should be given full and immediate effect.”


From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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State of WisconsinWisconsin Supreme Court