Former state Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox says 22 states allow their allow their justices to elect their leader – and Wisconsin should follow suit. “This is the prevalent system allowing the sitting justices . . . to select who will lead them,” Wilcox told the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
A constitutional amendment that could remove Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson from her leadership position passed both chambers of the legislature last session. If lawmakers approve it a second time, it would be on the statewide ballot in April. Currently, the senior serving justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court serves as chief justice.
If the measure goes to voters in April, it would be on the ballot at the same time as candidates for the state’s highest court. Justice Ann Walsh Bradley is being challenged by Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley. In 2011, Bradley – one of the court’s liberals – was involved in a highly publicized confrontation with conservative Justice David Prosser.
Wilcox did not make any direct reference to that incident, or to any of the alleged animosity between the various justices, but he did sat that electing the chief justice would “allow more respect and courtesy and collegiality.”
Abrahamson was first elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1979 and has served as chief justice since 1996.
The only other testimony at Thursday’s hearing came from former Marathon County Circuit Court Judge Dan Laroque. He told committee members that judges from across the state should be allowed to vote for the chief justice, who serves as chief administrator of the state court system.
“They’re entitled to be heard,” LaRoque said. “To limit it to the Supreme Court justices who managing the very system that these judges are in there every day trying to function in, isn’t right.”