The question of whether Wisconsin should change the way the chief justice of the state Supreme Court is selected is heading to voters. The state Assembly approved second consideration of a proposed constitutional amendment Thursday that would allow members of the court to elect the chief justice, on a 62-34 vote.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) was among Republicans who argued that’s a better option than the current practice of the position going to the most senior judge on the court. Vos said “Democracy is supposed to be people electing each other, which is what will happen once this constitutional amendment goes to the people…they enact it in April…and we will see who the justices believe is best to lead the court.”
The measure faced strong opposition from Democrats though, who claim the push is part of a partisan attack on current Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson because she has often made decisions that have gone against Republican-backed laws. State Representative Dana Wachs (D-Eau Claire) accused Republicans of “rushing for retribution,” instead of focusing on economic development and job creation.
Backers of the amendment also argue that allowing the judges to pick the chief justice will help to alleviate some of the tension that has plagued the court in recent years. The chief justice dictates the agenda of the court and Abrahamson, often liberal leaning, is outnumbered by conservatives on the court 4-3. Representative Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) said the change will inject even more politics into the court though, and “it will not make the court work better. It may, in fact, make it work worse.”
The state Senate approved the proposed amendment earlier this week. It will now go before voters statewide on the April 7 ballot.