State Senate approves constitutional changes to state Supreme Court’s structure

The state Senate passed a constitutional amendment Tuesday that could alter the selection process for chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Under current law, the longest serving justice on the court serves as chief, a primarily administrative position that includes a $10,000 pay increase. The amendment would allow the justices to elect the chief justice among themselves.

The proposal would go into effect upon passage, potentially removing current Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson from her post. Democratic legislators questioned the real motivation for the amendment.

“The majority party already has a majority on the court, so why are [Republicans] going after the Chief Justice?” asked state Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison.

State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, said the bill, in addition to other proposals requiring justices to retire at a certain age, targeted Abrahamson personally, dubbing the proposal “the Shirley Amendment.”

In several committee hearings on the bill, former Chief Justice Jon Wilcox testified before the Legislature in favor of the bill and said it would foster cooperation in the court.

The Legislature already approved the measure last session and, as with any amendment to the state Constitution, it must pass the Legislature once more before it would appear on a statewide ballot in April.

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