Conservatives on the Wisconsin Supreme Court picked Justice Patience Roggensack as their new leader Wednesday, dumping longtime Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson after voters approved changing how the head of the court is selected. Four justices on the seven-member court voted to put Roggensack in charge just hours after state election officials certified the April 7 referendum results, allowing court members to choose the chief justice. For the past 126 years, the state constitution had the most senior member of the court serve as chief justice. The vote for Roggensack comes at a time when the court has been roiled by ideological and personal differences, and as Abrahamson has pursued litigation to remain chief justice until her elected term ends in 2019.
Her lawsuit, filed the day after voters approved the constitutional amendment, contends it would violate her rights to due process and equal protection under the law if her time as chief justice were cut short.
Roggensack and Abrahamson did not return phone calls late Wednesday. But Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, an ally of Abrahamson’s, expressed disappointment over the vote.
“The issue of whether constitutional amendment is to be applied retroactively is currently before a federal judge,” Bradley said. “Any vote now appears premature.