Thursday, January 15, 2015

Common Cause in Wisconsin Opposes Measure Designed to Take Down Chief Justice Abrahamson

Statement of Jay Heck, Executive Director
Common Cause in Wisconsin

In Opposition to

Senate Joint Resolution 2
Directing the Wisconsin Supreme Court to
Elect its Chief Justice Every Two Years

Before the Wisconsin State Senate Committee
on Judiciary and Public Safety

January 15, 2015

I am Jay Heck, the director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, one of the state’s largest non-partisan, non-profit political reform advocacy organizations with approximately 2,300 members. We oppose Senate Joint Resolution 2 because it is so transparently ideologically partisan and is obviously designed to remove from the position of Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court one specific individual: the current Chief Justice, Shirley Abrahamson.

Common Cause in Wisconsin strongly believes that there are already far too many partisan political considerations surrounding and infusing the current deliberations and elections of our state’s highest court and that this measure will only exacerbate, rather than decrease and diffuse ideological differences. We are concerned that citizen confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which has already fallen considerably in recent years according to public opinion polls, will plummet still further if this proposal is passed in the Wisconsin Legislature and then sent to statewide referendum in what will almost certainly be a very politically ideological and divisive statewide campaign, as early as this April. All of us can readily predict the outside special interest groups that will spend hundreds of thousands, and likely millions of dollars primarily in the form of nasty, negative attack communications on the airwaves and in the mail on top of the millions likely to be spent on the upcoming Wisconsin Supreme Court election this Spring.

It is also a certainty that this proposal, which passed in the 2013-2014 legislative session, and which is again before you today, would never have been devised or proposed if the current Chief Justice was named David Prosser, or Patience Roggensack, or Annette Ziegler, or Michael Gableman. But because the Chief Justice is named Shirley Abrahamson, and many members of the State Legislature simply cannot abide her views or philosophy, she has become the specific target of this ill-advised and ill-timed measure. If that were not the case and if the proposal was being made for non-ideological or non-personal reasons, it would contain a provision that would make this measure effective after the next election of Justice Abrahamson in 2019. But this proposal contains no such provision. It is targeted specifically at the current Chief Justice.

This measure also constitutes an obnoxious and intrusive assault by the Legislature on the separation of powers of the three branches of state government in Wisconsin. Dictating how the Wisconsin Supreme Court ought to select its Chief Justice is not something the Legislature ought to be deciding any more than the Wisconsin Supreme Court ought to be determining how the legislative leadership is selected.

This joint resolution, if it passes and if it is sent to referendum, ought to be seen by the citizens of Wisconsin as a partisan, petty measure that will further politicize an already far-too politicized State Supreme Court. It is not worthy of their consideration, much less their support. Senate Joint Resolution 2 ought not be advanced by this committee or by the Wisconsin Legislature, either.

Thank you.


Jay Heck
608/256-2686 (office)
608/512-9363 (cell)

Common Cause in Wisconsin
152 W. Johnson St., Suite 212
Madison, WI  53703

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