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Abrahamson Sues to Keep Wisconsin Chief Justice Job

Chief Justice Abrahamson

Chief Justice Abrahamson

One day after voter passage of a referendum to change the way the Wisconsin Chief Justice is selected, sitting Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to hold on to her post.

The proposed constitutional amendment would empower the court’s seven justices to choose the Chief Justice, instead of that position going to the most senior justice automatically. Engineered by Republican legislators, the amendment has been seen likely as leading to the demotion of Chief Justice Abrahamson, one of the court’s liberal minority.

According to the Associated Press, the lawsuit contends that an immediate change to the selection process would alter the 10-year term to which she was elected as Chief Justice, violating her due process and equal protection rights. “The speculation that this somehow shortens her tenure, she felt was wrong,”  her lawyer, Robert S. Peck, told The New York Times. Read more

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TV Advertising Tops $1.1 Million for WI Court Election and Referendum

In the run-up to Election Day, Wisconsin voters saw a flurry of last-minute TV advertising, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice reported on Wednesday. Total TV airtime spending topped $1.1 million for a judicial election and a court-related referendum.

In defeating Judge James Daley, incumbent Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley spent more than $570,000 on TV airtime. The Greater Wisconsin Committee purchased TV airtime for ads opposing Judge Daley in the amount of $170,000. Daley did not air TV ads, using radio and other outreach instead.

A proposed constitutional amendment, approved by voters, sparked a showdown between groups that have long been rivals in Wisconsin Supreme Court elections. The amendment will change the selection of the Chief Justice, switching from a seniority system to a vote among the justices. Read more

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‘More Pressure’ Now on WI Justices: JAS Quoted in New York Times

Wisconsin_flag_mapVoters in bitterly divided Wisconsin re-elected Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, seen as a liberal, while also approving a constitutional change likely to bring the replacement of a liberal Chief Justice with a conservative, the New York Times reported while quoting Justice at Stake.

“I think today represents the latest step in trying to make this court more accountable to politics and less accountable to law,” said Bert Brandenburg, Justice at Stake executive director. “No matter what party you’re from, as a Supreme Court justice, you’re feeling more pressure, and you have to look over your shoulder more and more.”

With all but two percent of the vote counted, Justice Bradley had 58 percent compared to 42 percent for Judge Daley, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Each had accused the other during the campaign of political partisanship.

With all but three percent of the vote counted, Question 1, the proposed constitutional amendment, received 53 percent “yes” votes and 47 percent “no” votes, according to the Journal Sentinel. The constitutional amendment was drafted to allow the court’s justices to choose the Chief Justice, rather than conferring the job on the most senior justice. Critics say it was  aimed at demoting longtime Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, while proponents contended it would enhance democracy. Read more

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WI Voters Approve Change to Chief Justice Selection Method

Wisconsin voters approved on Tuesday a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way the Chief Justice is selected. Justice at Stake warned that in Wisconsin, the insulation intended to shield judges from political intimidation is diminishing.

The Republican-drafted amendment is likely to result in demotion of Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a member of the court’s liberal minority. It will allow the court’s members to choose the Chief Justice instead of conferring that job on the justice of greatest seniority, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“An interest group that couldn’t defeat Justice Abrahamson at the polls spent more than $600,000 targeting her through an innocuous-sounding ballot measure, and succeeded,” said JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg.

“For almost a decade, Wisconsin’s Supreme Court has endured a siege of special interest money and pressure from all sides, and the insulation that is supposed to protect judges from political bullying is wearing thin. The question going forward is how to reduce the growing pressure on Wisconsin’s judges to be accountable to politicians and interest groups instead of the law and the constitution.”

The referendum attracted some $600,000 in spending by a group set up by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. Opposition to it came from a group supported by $280,000 contributed by the Greater Wisconsin Committee. Another group opposing Question 1, Fair Courts Wisconsin, received backing of more than $4,700 from Justice at Stake and conducted outreach ahead of Election Day.

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In Wisconsin, Court Candidates Traded ‘Soft-on-Crime’ Jabs

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.49.25 PMAs voters went to the polls in Wisconsin, a Marshall Project article focused on the “soft-on-crime” accusations that were traded by rivals for a Wisconsin Supreme Court seat. This kind of increasingly typical campaigning occurred even though spending in the contest did not soar, the article said in quoting data from Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice:

“The race has not been as expensive as many predicted with more than $612,000 spent on TV ads, according to research by the election watchdog group Justice At Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.

“But that has not meant a shortage of the ‘soft-on-crime’ campaigning now typical in state supreme court elections, even as politicians from both parties have begun to call for less draconian sentencing and other criminal justice reforms. Recent research suggests such advertisements not only influence the outcome of judicial races but may make future justices marginally less likely to rule in favor of a defendant in controversial cases.”

Read more

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Surge in Last-Minute TV Advertising on Wisconsin Question 1

A flurry of last-minute TV advertising was booked for and against Wisconsin’s Question 1, a referendum to force a change in the way the Chief Justice is selected, in the run-up to Election Day on Tuesday.

“The ad spending on Question 1 remains very heavily weighted toward its supporters, who represent corporate interests in the state,” said Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, in a statement. “The pro-big business side has vastly out-raised and outspent its opponents in order to convince voters that Question 1 is a neutral measure, when in fact it would inject more politics into the court.” Read more

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JAS: Lopsided Ad Race Over Wisconsin Ballot Question

safe_imageA lopsided, late-hour ad race has emerged over a ballot initiative that would likely demote Wisconsin Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson if it is passed on April 7th, Justice at Stake reported on Friday.

Vote Yes for Democracy has received all of its reported funds to date, $600,000, from a historic big spender in state judicial elections, the Issues Mobilization Council of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. Vote Yes has booked TV ads supporting Question 1 in the amount of $116,025, and earlier reported radio ad expenditures of $189,084. By contrast, Make Your Vote Count, funded by the Greater Wisconsin Committee, has booked TV ads opposing Question 1 in the amount of $87,655.

“The brawl over Wisconsin’s courts has moved to a new arena,” said JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg. “But many Wisconsin residents still don’t realize that Question 1 is a political effort to tilt the court to one side, not a good-government measure.” Read more

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In Wisconsin Court Race, Outside Spenders Mostly on Sidelines

Screen Shot 2015-03-09 at 12.49.25 PMGiven that Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election on April 7th does not place ideological control of the court in play, it has captured less attention and spending than some other recent Wisconsin high court contests. Conservatives claim a majority of the current justices.

Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg offered that theory for a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article that was headlined, “High court race attracts less interest, outside money than expected.” In the race that pits challenger James Daley against incumbent Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, outside interests have largely stayed on the sidelines, with the exception of the Greater Wisconsin Committee spending $100,000 on an ad criticizing Daley. He is a Rock County Circuit Court judge.

Justice Bradley has led in fundraising, raising about $756,000 compared to $288,000 for Daley. The incumbent has repeated a theme that she wants to keep partisan politics off the court, while the challenger has maintained that she is a “judicial activist.” In other coverage, WMTV reported, “NBC15 sits down with both Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates”; and the Oshkosh Northwestern had an article, “High court hopeful Daley: Uphold law; don’t interpret it.”



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JAS: Bill Disregards Kansas Constitution, and Checks and Balances

Kansas_quarter,_reverse_side,_2005A Kansas legislator pushing legislation to expand the grounds for impeaching state Supreme Court justices has said the courts view themselves as “autocratic” and complained about a list of their decisions. He also wants the legislation expanded to include lower-court judges.

As Gavel Grab mentioned earlier, the legislation by State Sen. Mitch Holmes, a Republican, adds as a grounds for impeachment any attempt to usurp the authority of the legislature.

Debra Erenberg, Justice at Stake Director of State Affairs, told the Hutchinson News that his legislation “stands out for its blatant disregard for the Kansas Constitution and the system of checks and balances in our democracy.” The state legislature has thrown just about everything, including the kitchen sink, at the courts this session, she said. Read more

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Air War Coming Over Chief Justice Ballot Measure in Wisconsin

Seal_of_the_Supreme_Court_of_Wisconsin.svgA proposed constitutional amendment to change the way the Wisconsin Chief Justice is selected will be the subject of advertising for and against it, sponsored by rival groups, in the run-up to the April 7 referendum.

If passed, the Republican-drafted amendment likely would result in demotion of Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a member of the court’s liberal minority. It would allow the court’s members to choose the Chief Justice instead of conferring that job on the justice of greatest seniority. Critics say the measure is a partisan power grab, while supporters say it enables democracy.

Vote Yes for Democracy, a pro-amendment group, reported it has raised $600,000 from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, according to a article. Vote Yes for Democracy reported spending $189,100 on radio advertising, and its spokesman said TV advertising is coming.

The Greater Wisconsin Committee, meanwhile, released a radio ad against the proposed amendment. In it, former state Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske urged a “No” vote. Make Your Vote Count, an anti-amendment group, said it raised $80,000 for the effort, reported. Read more

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