Two Perspectives on Choosing Wisconsin's Supreme Court Chief Justice
Preserving Wisconsin's Constitution
Ann S. Jacobs, President
Wisconsin Association for Justice
In early April, voters will go to the polls to decide whether to change a key part of Wisconsin’s constitution – how the Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court is chosen.
Under Wisconsin’s constitution, the Chief Justice is chosen objectively; we the people choose the members of the court but the sitting Justice with the most high court experience is appointed Chief Justice. Experience trumps politics and political connections.
Now there is an attempt to change this long-standing tradition, and wrest the vote from the citizens by changing our constitution. The proposed amendment would make the Chief justice position a popularity contest – instead of experience and the voters dictating who gets the job of leading the court, the seven sitting Justices, behind closed doors, would every two years pick a new leader. Politics now trumps experience.
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How Not To Choose A Chief Justice
By: Chris Bremer Muggli, Former President
Wisconsin Association for Justice
The April 7 election will present to Wisconsin voters a proposed constitutional amendment that would change the method of choosing the chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The current method, which has been in place for over 125 years, allows Wisconsin voters to express their preference at the ballot box for the person who will serve as the chief justice. Although there have been attempts to take away the people's right to elect their judges, Wisconsin voters have maintained this right to assure a democratic government in all three branches.
Politics plays no role in the selection, as judicial elections have been separated from partisan, state and county elections. The individual with the most seniority who is re-elected by the people of Wisconsin will serve as chief justice during his or her term in office — that is, 10 years.
The genius of our current system is that it allows the justice with the most institutional knowledge and experience to carry out the increased responsibilities of the position. The predictability of the current system allows for the chief justice to make tough decisions as the chief administrator of the state courts.
The April 7 election ballot will contain a provision that, if it succeeds, will take away the vote from the citizens by changing our constitution. The proposed constitutional amendment would make the position of chief justice subject to a popularity contest between seven sitting justices, who would choose the chief behind closed doors every two years, inserting politics directly into the Supreme Court.
Instead of spending time resolving cases, the court will be bogged down every two years in a battle for the chief justice, creating discord and inviting factions to form and grow.
It is apparent that this proposed constitutional amendment was brought forward as a means of ousting our sitting chief justice, Shirley Abrahamson, who was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1976 as the first woman to serve. Since that time, she has been recognized as one of the most prolific and respected jurists in the U.S. She has written more majority opinions than any other jurist sitting today. Recently, however, she has written mostly dissenting opinions.
The key motivation behind this targeted attack on the chief justice is to squeeze out minority views and pack the court with those who align in ideology with the current majority. Chief Justice Abrahamson's presence on the court gives it much-needed balance so that the rights of all of the people are considered, not just the conservative majority.
If this measure were truly above partisanship and not an effort to force out the chief justice, the authors of the proposed amendment would have "grandmothered" Justice Abrahamson in, to allow her to fulfill her whole term as chief to 2019. Instead, this amendment would take effect mid-term and nullify the will of the electorate.
The authors of this proposed constitutional amendment declare that it promotes democracy. Nothing is further from the truth. The democratic process has worked to allow all of the voters of Wisconsin to choose their chief justice. The chief justice, once elected, should not be prevented from serving her term in the role to which she was elected.
I urge you to vote no on the constitutional amendment to change the selection process for the chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
(This column ran in the Wausau Daily Herald on March 30, 2015.)
The Power Of Justice
CNN's Michael Smerconish recently aired a compelling commentary on the civil justice system.
Using the GM case as a springboard, Smerconish showed how the Melton family - who lost their daughter in a crash - turned to the courts to find justice both for their family and their daughter.
Smerconish referred to the civil justice system as a check on free enterprise especially when profits take a back seat to safety.
As he so aptly put it...it's all about accountability.
Take Justice Back
Curious about the civil justice system and why it should matter to you? The American Association for Justice has a new website which will show you why the system is important and how all of us are losing rights to corporate attacks every day.
Check the following features:
Understanding Auto Insurance - Ask the Right Questions Before You Buy
Understanding Auto Insurance is a handy guide to help Wisconsin drivers protect themselves with the right insurance coverage.
The brochure will help you understand the coverage you are required to carry in Wisconsin as well as evaluating the benefits of optional coverage. It also has consumer tips on the best questions to ask your insurance agent whether you are renewing coverage or shopping for a new policy.
Be sure to read the section on, "phantom motor vehicles," which are drivers who report fake accidents with insured drivers as part of a scam to commit insurance fraud.
If you prefer, you can also check out Understanding Auto Insurance online by clicking here.
Wisconsin Association for Justice is a Proud Supporter of the Public News Service
Since 2005, the Wisconsin Association for Justice, through the Wisconsin Civil Justice Education Foundation, has been a proud sponsor of the Wisconsin Public News Service (PNS).
Unlike most news outlets, PNS covers stories that are truly in the public interest. Recent stories include reports on the often unknown dangers of generic drugs, and how trial lawyers found the evidence that led to a massive recalls of GM automobiles.
Each story has a link to its specific podcast which makes for easy forwarding to friends and colleagues. Check back often to hear the latest podcasts from the Wisconsin Public News Service and the Wisconsin Association for Justice. Click here to use this free service.