A move to change the method for selecting the state’s chief justice advances through the Senate.
State Supreme Court justices are one step closer to choosing their chief, rather than awarding that post by seniority, as has been the practice for nearly 125 years. The Senate passed first consideration of the constitutional amendment along party lines, 18-15.
AUDIO: Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) the legislature shouldn’t be telling the Supreme Court what to do; the body should instead be focused on job creation. :12
Democrat Robert Wirch (D-Kenosha) says it’s a very “dangerous precedent” when lawmakers start telling the Supreme Court how to run its business.
“Just imagine if the shoe was on the other foot, that the Supreme Court was telling us how to choose our leaders, how to set up our rules in the state legislature.” He says, “The outer ring would be screaming ‘activist judges, activist judges.’ Well, we’re doing that to them. What about the separation of powers?”
Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) defends the idea, saying the final decision goes to the voters of Wisconsin, not lawmakers. “We, here today, are not making that decision. What we’re doing is allowing the public to make that decision. This is a constitutional amendment that, as you know, will go through two sessions of the legislature and will then go to the ballot and the public will make this decision. We aren’t inflicting it upon them at all.”
AUDIO: Lazich was the only Senator to speak on the floor in favor of the proposal. 1:01
Democrats accuse the GOP of “meddling” in the High Court, and say this measure is clearly aimed at removing Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who’s been on the bench for 37 years and the chief for the last 17.
The amendment needs to pass two consecutive sessions of the legislature before going to the voters in a statewide referendum.