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WI Trial Lawyer: Proposed Constitutional Amendment a Bad Idea

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Monday, February 9, 2015   

MILWAUKEE – A proposed constitutional amendment would end Wisconsin's 126-year tradition of having the court's justice with the longest tenure serve as chief justice.

The amendment would have the court's seven members elect their own leader every two years.

Milwaukee trial attorney Ann Jacobs is strongly opposed to the amendment, which is likely to be on the April 7 ballot.

"This law advocates taking away from citizens their right to elect their chief justice, which is what they did when they re-elected Justice Abrahamson,” she stresses. “It's unfortunate and I think goes counter to our very populist view here in Wisconsin."

Although supporters of the amendment deny it, others are calling the amendment effort a coordinated attack on Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who has served as chief justice for the past 18 years.

Supporters say the change would encourage more collegiality among the justices.

Many observers note the court has been mired in partisan bickering for the past several years, between what's seen as the conservative and liberal members of the court.

Jacobs maintains the amendment would make the situation worse.

"Rather than mitigating the political infighting within the court, by creating a popularity contest on this important issue every two years what we're doing is heightening the political fracturing of our supreme court," she states.

Proponents of the amendment disagree, saying the change will promote greater collegiality and will encourage the justices to get along with each other.

Abrahamson is considered part of the liberal faction on the court, but is known nationally as an impartial jurist with a sharp mind and as a hard-working justice.

Jacobs says she has greater concerns than the personality issues surfacing in discussions of the proposed amendment.

"There is a question raised as to whether or not this is going to impact checks and balances between the court and the legislature, in part because it affects a sitting justice in the midst of her term," she explains.

Jacobs says if supporters of the amendment were not making this a personal attack on Abrahamson, they would have proposed that the new law take effect after the conclusion of Abrahamson's term.





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