Preserving Our Constitution



Ann S. Jacobs, President

Wisconsin Association for Justice 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.

As if eliminating Wisconsin’s history weren’t enough, this proposal appears to be sadly steeped in the politics of the moment. 

On the high court since 1976, current Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson has held the court’s top spot since 1996, has been reelected four times, and her current term ends in 2019. She is considered a role model nationwide for a state Supreme Court justice. Abrahamson has been elected president of the National Conference of Chief Justices; she’s earned 15 honorary law degrees from universities nationwide. 

Like any jurist, there are those who disagree with her opinions.  Opponents of the amendment argue that those who disagree with Abrahamson’s track record are hoping to “change the referee.”  Supporters argue that removing the Chief Justice was not the motivation for the referendum. Instead, they call it  a step towards bringing Wisconsin’s judicial elections into line with other states.  Yet this act won’t apply only to future judges – it changes the game for one particular judge – one who has been consistently reelected by Wisconsinites for nearly 40 years.

“Of course, this is about getting rid of one Justice,” said former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice and Republican legislator, Oliver Diaz. “If it wasn’t, they would grandfather in sitting Justices or not have the law take effect mid-term.”

This change to our Wisconsin constitution is bad for Wisconsin and bad for our democracy.  We shouldn’t eliminate our cherished right to elect our chief judge in an attempt to “change the referee.”  Wisconsinites can disagree on many issues, but we are unified in our desire to continue our 125 year tradition of electing our chief judge.

Let your voice be heard that our Constitution should not be tinkered with for political gain.

Choose experience over politics and vote “no” on April 7.

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