A federal judge denied another attempt Monday by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson to block a potential vote that could remove her from office, as both sides met in an initial hearing on the case.
Abrahamson is suing the state after voters approved a constitutional amendment that would allow the other state Supreme Court justices to elect their leader instead of having the position go to the court’s most senior member.
U.S. District Judge James Peterson said the chief justice could not prove there would be irreparable harm were she removed from her position and that he wanted to wait to hear the full facts of the case before issuing an injunction against the amendment.
“The interest of [Abrahamson] … is not sufficient for me to tell the state how to elect its chief justice,” Peterson said. “It would be extraordinary for me … to block implementation of this law.”
Robert Peck, who is representing Abrahamson, said he was disappointed in Peterson’s ruling.
“This surprised me because … the loss of civil rights, even for a short time is proven to be irreparable,” Peck said after the hearing, although he added that “this wasn’t a decision on the merits of the case.”
Roger St. John, who is representing six of the seven other state Supreme Court justices, argued in the hearing there would be no chief justice until the other justices elect one.
“[Abrahamson] is claiming she has a personal right to the office,” St. John said.
Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, Abrahamson’s only liberal colleague, decided this week to represent herself in the case.
Monday’s ruling clears the way for the justices to elect a new chief justice any time after the election results are certified April 29. Peterson asked the other members of the court to use “wisdom” in deciding when to elect a new leader.
Peck said there is no reason to elect a new chief until after the high court’s term ends in August.
“The term is close to ending and it would be wise to wait until them,” Peck said.
Another hearing on the case was scheduled for May 15.