Wisconsin Justice sues to stop state constitutional amendment from taking effect

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

The Wisconsin Supreme Court is no stranger to controversy. Disputes among the justices have even turned physical. Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson is a regular participant in the Court's internal squabbles. Now, faced with the prospect of losing her position as Chief Justice, Abrahamson is going to court.

On April 7, Wisconsin voters approved an amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution changing the manner in which the Court's Chief Justice is selected. Prior to passage of the new amendment, the most senior member of the Court served as Chief Justice. Under the new amendment, the members of the Court are to elect a Chief Justice every two years. Given the current composition of the Court, it is quite clear Justice Abrahamson will not remain the Chief under this rule, but she's not leaving without a fight.

On Wednesday, Justice Abrahamson filed suit in federal court challenging the amendment. Specifically, Justice Abrahamson is challenging whether the amendment may take immediate effect, as opposed to when the Chief Justice position becomes vacant—presumably when her current term on the Court expires in 2019.

According to her complaint,

Should the new method of selecting a chief justice be put into immediate effect before the expiration of Chief Justice Abrahamson's current term and a new chief justice selected, the term of the current, elected chief justice will be disrupted, her constitutionally protected interest in the office of chief justice will be impaired, the votes of her supporters will be diluted and the results of the 2009 election undone long after-the-fact, while the Wisconsin court system's leadership will become unsettled. The retroactive application of the new amendment raises profound issues of Due Process and Equal Protection under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

Yesterday, a federal district court judge denied Justice Abrahamson's request for a temporary restraining order. According to this order, the judge will hold a status conference on the case on April 21, and potentially hear arguments before the election results are certified on April 29. The judge said he expects "prompt resolution" of the matter.