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Thursday, January 22, 2015

 2:55 PM 

Chief justice amendment passes Assembly, heads to voters

The Assembly has approved an amendment that would change the way the Supreme Court chief justice is selected.

The measure passed on a 62 to 34 party-line vote and will go before voters on the April 7th ballot.

The amendment would provide for justices to elect who serves as chief justice and replace the current seniority-based system.

Democrats argued that the move was simply an attempt to remove liberal-leaning Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson from her position, and thwarts the will of people who voted for her expecting she would serve as chief. They also said it takes the Assembly’s focus away from improving economic opportunities for citizens.

Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, called the move a "rush for retribution" against Abrahamson. He said if she was removed during her term, that would be a violation of her due process rights.

Rep. Andy Jorgenson, D-Fort Atkinson, said the amendment was intended to target Abrahamson.

"I wonder if there were a Chief Justice Prosser whether we would even be pondering this now," he said.

Jorgenson said the first legislation the body should take up should be about raising wages, creating jobs or expanding Medicaid.

Minority Leader Peter Barca pointed to another bill that will set a mandatory retirement age that would result in Abrahamson being forced from the court.

He said the moves amount to a "political power play" against Abrahamson, who he said was elected with the public expecting she would continue serving as chief.

Rep. Chris Taylor praised Abrahamson's performance as the first female chief justice and questioned what message approving the amendment would send to young women.

Republicans argued the amendment would bring Democracy to the selection of the chief and would bring Wisconsin in line with most other states.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Dems were prejudging who members on the court would choose.

"You underestimate her ability to convince her colleagues why she should remain chef justice under a system of democracy," Vos said.

Vos said the members of the court electing their chief is the norm in other states.

"I've heard over and over and over the last couple of years what democracy is supposed to look like," Vos said. "Democracy is people voting for each other."

Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, said he was embarrassed by what he said was dysfunction and lack of leadership on the court.

Jarchow said the Supreme Court has tremendous power that relies on people having trust and faith in the court, which he said was at risk due to the "embarrassing and childish behavior of the court over the last few years."

He said the move would result in a less divided court and be a step in the right direction to restoring respect for the body.

Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, responded that Abrahamson has shown "absolute leadership" and questioned how introducing politics into the court would reduce division.

Before the final vote, a series of Dem amendments were shot down on party line votes.

One would have changed the effective date of the amendment to the end of Abrahamson's current term. Another amendment would have changed the date for the public to vote on ratification to November 2016, and a final one would have had circuit court and appellate judges vote for the chief.

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