A proposed constitutional amendment to change how the head of the state Supreme Court is selected is seeing quick movement at the Capitol.
Currently, the most senior member of the state’s high court serves as chief justice. Under the proposed change, members of the court would select the chief judge.
Democrat say the move is aimed at stripping current Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson of her power because she is often at odds with the court’s conservative majority. Republicans contend though that it’s meant to help the court deal with some of the divisions that have resulted in high-profile incidents, such as allegations that Justice David Prosser assaulted fellow Justice Ann Walsh Bradley while the court was reviewing Governor Scott Walker’s highly contentious collective bargaining legislation.
During an executive session on the bill Thursday at the Capitol, State Representative Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) called it a “regrettable action,” insisting that any attempt to deny the change is politically motivated is “hogwash.” State Representative Samantha Kerkman (R-Salem) defended the move though, arguing that she likes the current chief justice, but does not believe using seniority helps to “build consensus” on the high court.
An Assembly committee voted along party lines Thursday to advance the amendment, setting up possible floor votes later this month in the Assembly and Senate. If approved, the it would likely go on a statewide ballot in April.
State Representative Dana Wachs (D-Eau Claire) noted the April vote will put the amendment out during an election where “voter turnout is not what it should be.” He also pointed out that it would appear on a ballot where Justice Bradley is up also for reelection, making it likely that outside groups could spend “truckloads of money” in an effort to oust her from office and push through the change.