Representing Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and five voters, CCL filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday seeking a declaration that the constitutional amendment approved by voters April 7, which changed the method by which the chief justice was selected, cannot be implemented until a naturally occurring vacancy occurs in that post. Abrahamson, a member of the court since 1976, has served as chief justice since 1996. Prior to Tuesday’s vote, the Wisconsin Constitution conferred the office of chief justice on the most senior continuously serving justice.  In 2009, Abrahamson was elected to another 10-year term, which ends on July 31, 2019.

The newly approved constitutional amendment changes the seniority rule to an election of the justices for a two-year term. The court’s majority is generally regarded as conservative, while Abrahamson is known as a liberal. News reports have speculated that the upshot of the amendment is that Abrahamson would be replaced with a member of the conservative wing of the court.

The complaint and memorandum, seeking immediate injunctive relief, argues that a constitutional amendment must explicitly and unmistakably indicate that it is to have retroactive effect; otherwise, the amendment must be construed as prospective in nature. Any other approach, the lawsuit contends, would violate the due process and equal protection rights of Abrahamson in her position, as well as the dilute and debase the voters who supported her in the 2009 election.

The lawsuit names the six other Wisconsin Supreme Court justices as defendants, as well as certain state officials responsible for administration and payroll. Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel was served with the complaint as well, as his office has authority to defend the action. The plaintiffs in this action are represented by CCL’s Robert S. Peck and Kathryn Minton.