MADISON (WSAU-Wheeler New) A constitutional amendment is quietly speeding through the state Legislature to change the way Wisconsin's chief justice is chosen. The Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote this afternoon to have a majority of the Supreme Court pick its chief justice every two years, and to limit that person from serving more than six years in a row.
The Assembly Judiciary panel is scheduled to vote Thursday on the amendment -- which would need approval in two consecutive legislative sessions, and then by the voters in a statewide referendum. Just over two dozen Republicans are sponsoring the change, which would make it more likely that the chief justice would have the same political philosophy as the rest of the Supreme Court. The court currently has the same conservative majority as the rest of state government.
Shirley Abrahamson, one of two liberals on the seven-member court, has been the chief justice for 17 years. The chief is currently the justice with the most seniority, and there's no limit on that term. The Supreme Court has had a number of sharp public disagreements in recent years, but things appear to have quieted down in the last few months.