The President’s Award is given to an individual who has been of outstanding service
to the Association, the community, or the practice of law. The President’s Award
bestows special recognition to a person who, in the course of zealously representing
their clients or in advocacy for the voiceless, pursues and helps achieve substantive
changes in the law of the state, improves our civil justice system, enhances the rights
of citizens’ access to the courts, preserves the right of trial by jury or enhances the
right of everyone to attain full, fair and timely remedies for civil wrongs. It is awarded
at the discretion of the President.
2019 President's Award Honoree
Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson
Wisconsin Supreme Court
Trailblazer. Driven. Tireless. Fair and impartial. Brilliant legal scholar. These are just a few of the many terms that describe Shirley Abrahamson.
Born in 1933 in New York City to Jewish Polish immigrants, Shirley Abrahamson knew from an early age that she wanted to be a lawyer. After graduating from New York University in three years, she attended the University of Indiana Law School, graduating in 1956 at the age of 21. A trailblazer for women in the law, she graduated first in her class—the only female—and in 1976 went on to become the first woman to serve on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. She became Chief Justice in 1996. In 2013, she became the longest-serving Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice ever.
For her part, Shirley Abrahamson has modestly attempted to downplay her trailblazer status, commenting in a video interview for Indiana University that “I was there at the right time and I was in the right place. It was before many women went to law school, so there were opportunities and there was a trail that could be walked. But you know, there have been many women over many generations who blazed that trail so I could walk on it.” The trail she has blazed for others following in her footsteps is unrivaled.
In July of this year, Shirley Abrahamson stepped down from the Wisconsin Supreme Court after completing her fourth 10-year term. In her 43 years on the state’s highest court, almost half of them as our Chief Justice, she has left behind an unparalleled legacy, where she authored more than 535 majority opinions, 491 dissenting opinions, and 325 concurring opinions. This does not include the tens of thousands petitions for review, bypasses, certifications and lawyer and judicial disciplinary cases to have come before the Court during her tenure.
In terms of her legacy, Shirley Abrahamson will be remembered for her advocacy for new federalism, which stresses the importance of state constitutional law as affording additional protections and rights to individuals beyond those guaranteed by the federal constitution. She has also left behind a legacy as a champion of judicial independence. As she told those gathered in the Capitol Rotunda at her tribute ceremony on June 18, 2019, “[t]he need for an independent judiciary both in this state and in the country has never been greater.” Finally, throughout her entire judicial career, through her actions and words, Shirley Abrahamson has embodied the mantra “and justice for all.” As she has explained, “[i]t’s important that we apply the same rule of law to everybody, because that is only fair and you learn that as a child.”
For her outstanding service to the practice of law, for her tireless commitment to striving to make our legal system equal and accessible to all people, and for being such a staunch proponent of a fair, impartial and non-partisan judiciary, Shirley Abrahamson is this year’s recipient of the Wisconsin Association for Justice’s President’s Award.
2018 - Eric J. Haag
Atterbury, Kammer & Haag, S.C.
2018 Award Program
2017 - Christine Bremer Muggli
Bremer & Trollop Law Offices, Wausau
2015 - Patrick O. Dunphy
Cannon & Dunphy S.C., Milwaukee
2012 - Lisa Graves
Executive Director, The Center for Media and Democracy, Madison
2011 - George W. Curtis
Curtis Law Office, Appleton