Republican members of the state Senate approve a proposed constitutional amendment that would change the manner in which the head of the Supreme Court is selected.
Under current statute, the most senior member of the state’s high court serves as chief justice. Under the proposed change to the constitution (SJR-2), the seven justices on the court would select their leader. Democrats call it a partisan effort to go after current Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson.
Republicans contend justices would get along better if they choose their own chief. Bill sponsor, Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), says he finds it interesting that people assume if the change is made, the current chief justice will be voted out of her position.
AUDIO: Senate minority leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) says it’s a “blatant power grab in all things state government.” :69
Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) says lawmakers are “massively micro-managing” the court. “We’re playing in someone else’s sandbox we have no business being in.” He says, “And as for those who run against ‘big government,’ this is big big government. This is over stepping our bounds.”
Abrahamson, a supreme court justice for 38 years, has served as leader of the high court for the past 18 years. Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) asks, “If it’s not broke, why are we fixing it?”
AUDIO: Taylor asks whether this is “the will of the people.” :28
Democrats are also upset the amendment is scheduled for a statewide vote at a time when fewer voters get to the polls.
The measure, up for second consideration, passed the Senate along party lines Tuesday (17-14) and was sent to the Assembly, which is expected to take it up on Thursday. If approved, the amendment would likely go on a statewide ballot in April. The proposal needs to pass through two consecutive sessions of the legislature and then be approved by voters on a statewide referendum.