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Saturday, December 9, 2023
Courthouse News Service
Saturday, December 9, 2023 | Back issues
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Ousted Wis. Chief Judge Drops 7th Circuit Appeal

MADISON, Wis. (CN) - Facing at best a "hollow" victory, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson has ended her legal fight to regain the court's chief position.

Abrahamson lost her position as chief justice of the state's Supreme Court in April, after voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that changed how the court's top judge is selected.

Previously, the justice with the most seniority held the position of chief justice; the amendment, however, empowered the judges on the court to choose their own chief justice.

On April 29, the four of the court's seven justices voted by email to elect conservative-leaning Patience Roggensack as their new chief justice, ousting the liberal Abrahamson, who had held the position since 1996. Abrahamson and two other justices chose not to participate in the election.

Abrahamson and five of her supporters sued over the constitutional amendment the day after it passed, contending she had a right to remain chief justice until 2019, when her current term on the court expires, and that her removal violated her and her supporters' civil rights.

In dismissing Abrahamson's suit this past July, U.S. District Judge James Peterson found that interpreting the state law should not fall to a federal court.

Though Abrahamson initially appealed the dismissal to the Seventh Circuit, she dropped the suit amid reports of the high cost the lawsuit had on state taxpayers.

"The question here is remedy," Abrahamson said in a statement last week released by The Wheeler Report. "A ruling in my favor and that of the other plaintiffs may be a hollow victory.

"Briefs, argument, a written judicial decision, and further federal court review could take a very long time," she continued. "By that time my 10-year term will be close to ending."

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, called a "conservative and libertarian public interest law firm" by Politifact.com, released a statement calling the lawsuit "weak" and a "legal temper tantrum."

"This is more in the slam-dunk-there-isn't-really-anything-to-talk-about category," Rick Esenberg, WILL's president and general counsel, said in the statement about Abrahamson dropping the suit.

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