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WI Chief Justice Fights Scheme to Oust Her

MADISON, Wis. (CN) - Wisconsin's chief justice is not going down without a fight.

Shirley Abrahamson, chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday to halt alleged plans to oust her from the court's highest seat before her current term ends in 2019.

Voters on Tuesday approved a ballot measure changing the selection of chief justice from seniority to an election by the other six justices, five of whom are conservative. Abrahamson is considered to be liberal.

"Different Wisconsin public officials and analysts, some of whom are named as defendants below, have speculated that the now-approved constitutional amendment will apply retroactively and be implemented immediately against Abrahamson, before the end of Chief Justice Abrahamson's current term, so as to permit the election of a new chief justice," the complaint states.

Should this be the case, Abrahamson says she and her supporters will be deprived of their "settled expectation" that she remain chief justice until the expiration of her term.

All six remaining Wisconsin Supreme Court justices are named in the suit, along with a handful of state officials responsible for administration and payroll. Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel was served with a copy of the complaint but not named as a party in the suit because he is not responsible for enforcing the statute in question, according to Abrahamson's complaint.

Appointed by Democratic Governor Patrick Lucey in 1976, Abrahamson has served as chief justice after accruing the "longest continuous tenure" on the court in 1996. Since then, she has been reelected to the court twice, running in 2009 as "Wisconsin's Chief," according to her complaint.

Five of Abrahamson's supporters joined the chief justice in the suit, all of whom voted for her. One of them served as her campaign treasurer in 2009, the complaint states.

Removing Abrahamson as chief justice before the expiration of her current term "dilutes the value" of the 2009 votes, Abrahamson says.

Further, the chief justice says she would not have run for another term in 2009 had she known her position and the additional $8,000 yearly salary were in jeopardy.

Abrahamson seeks a declaratory judgment that the new rule only applies when a vacancy occurs in the chief justice position, either when her term ends or she is impeached or unable to fulfill her duties.

Absent that, Abrahamson seeks a ruling that the law violates her constitutional right to due process and equal protection.

She also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to bar enforcement of the statute as amended.

Abrahamson is represented by Robert Peck with the Washington-based Center for Constitutional Litigation PC.

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