There’s a proposal at the Capitol to allow justices on the state Supreme Court to elect their Chief Justice. The change would amend the Wisconsin state constitution, and require passage by two consecutive sessions of the legislature and approval in a statewide referendum. State Senator Jon Erpenbach says he’s not aware of any demand from the Supreme Court itself to elect the chief justice rather the current seniority system. “If the justices come to us and say “we want to make the change,” then fine, then I would support it,” says Erpenbach. “It’s the legislature telling a court what to do. What’s next? We’re going to tell them what color robes?”
AUDIO: Senator Jon Erpenbach (2:20)
Erpenbach, a Middleton Democrat, also says electing a justice would add further partisan notes to an already deeply divided court. Senator Rich Zipperer is the resolution’s author. “This would allow the court to pick someone that they are comfortable being led by,” he says. “This lets them decide how their shop should be run. And this gives them the tools that they need to be able to make those decisions.” Zipperer says Justice Michael Gableman has asked the legislature to consider the change. Gableman is the newest justice, having been elected in 2008.
AUDIO: Senator Rich Zipperer (3:15)
Zipperer, a Pewaukee Republican, says supreme courts in neighboring Iowa, Illinois and Michigan elect their chief justices, as do the majority of state supreme courts.
Current Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson has served in that capacity since 1996. Zipper’s proposal received a public hearing Wednesday before the Senate judiciary committee.