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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Ballot Initiative Backers Slap at ‘Desperate’ Judge

MADISON, Wis. (CN) - A federal judge should throw out the "desperate attempt" by Wisconsin's chief justice to maintain her title, members of a political advocacy group argued.

The case stems from a ballot measure narrowly passed in the April 7 election that changed the selection process for the head of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

With her term scheduled to end in 2019, Justice Shirley Abrahamson filed suit the next day, along with five supporters, claiming that the ballot measure deprives Abrahamson of property rights to her chief status and accompanying salary.

Chris Kliesmet, Orville Seymer, Chris Martinson, Vincient Schmuki and Dara Maillette brought a motion to dismiss Monday along with a motion to intervene in the case.

The two lead intervenors, Kliesmet and Seymer, control Citizens for Responsible Government, a political advocacy group "specializing in recall initiatives" and government transparency projects, according to Ballotpedia.

The group is not named as a proposed intervenor in this case because "longtime Wisconsin citizen-activists" Kliesmet and Seymer reached out to Washington, D.C., law firm Baker Hostetler on behalf of more than 400,000 residents who voted in favor of the amendment, attorney Andrew Grossman said in a phone interview.

They say Abrahamson, who has been chief justice since 1996 based on seniority, should be subject to an immediate vote by the other six justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court in accordance with the new law.

"The Wisconsin Legislature and Wisconsin voters knew what they were voting for, and it wasn't to extend by four more years the broken seniority-based selection system that they sought to consign to the ash heap of history," the brief in support of the motion states.

In addition to claiming that permissible expectations of officeholders contradict Abrahamson's claims, her opponents say that their bid for vote dilution would "paralyze[]" government if upheld across the board.

"Every officeholder in Wisconsin is elected subject to the possibility that she may be removed in various ways for various (or no) reasons, that her powers may be impaired by statute or constitutional amendment, that her pay may be cut, or that her office may be abolished entirely," the brief states (parentheses in original). "But in plaintiffs' view, all of these things would violate federal law."

Claiming that Abrahamson's claims are also speculative and unripe, the would-be intervenors also note that that the six other justices - five of whom are considered conservative to her liberal - are guaranteed to vote her out.

"Perhaps Justice Abrahamson will win the continued support of her colleagues on the Court; perhaps she will not," the brief states. "But plaintiffs do not allege that such an eventuality is likely or imminent."

The brief concludes by noting that Abrahamson is improperly seeking a federal ruling on state law, which caselaw prohibits.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson previously denied Abrahamson a temporary injunction preventing an election before final judgment. The case is scheduled for a status conference on April 21.

Neither party's attorney responded immediately to a request for comment.

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