A federal judge has denied Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson an injunction that would have restored her to the chief justice post she lost after a referendum in April 2015.
U.S. District Judge James Peterson ruled that there was no irreparable harm in keeping Justice Patience Roggensack in the chief justice post while Abrahamson’s legal challenge in federal court continues. He added that he sees no signs of Roggensack making any wholesale changes to the court’s functions as chief justice.
Voters in Wisconsin approved an amendment to its constitution that would give the right of the seven justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court the power to choose its chief justice, which ends a 126-year practice of having the chief justice job go to the most senior member. Abrahamson is that senior member of the court.
Abrahamson is also one of only two liberal justices on the Supreme Court and was expected to be voted out by the four-justice conservative majority.
Abrahamson has been the chief justice since 1996. The new amendment would not take place until the end of Justice Abrahamson’s term, which ends in four years. She asked the Federal District Court judge to block the other six judges on the court from moving forward with implementation.
Abrahamson argued in her federal lawsuit that changing the selection process immediately would shorten her 10-year term of office. She was appointed chief justice in 2009. Removing her from office before her 10-year term expires would violate her constitutional right to due process and equal protection under the law.
The amendment was put on the ballot in Wisconsin by the Republican-controlled legislature. An opponent said it was a clear attempt to remove Abrahamson, who has been a member of the court since 1976.
Under the amendment, justices will decide every two years who they want to serve as chief justice. The chief justice serves as the lead administrator for the state court system with power to assign judges and justices for cases before the Supreme Court, designate and assign reserve judges and schedule oral arguments before the high court among other duties.
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