Legislation on Chief Justice Selection

UPDATE Jan. 20, 2015: The Wisconsin State Senate has passed legislation that could change how the Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice is selected. The State Assembly will vote on the legislation on Thursday afternoon. If passed, the legislation will be appear as a referendum on the April 7th ballot. If the referendum is approved, the state constitution will be amended to reflect the change.

The Assembly Judiciary Committee passed legislation yesterday that would change how the Wisconsin Supreme Court chief justice is selected. The legislation will be on the floor of the Assembly as soon as Thursday, January 22nd.

If passed by the legislature, the legislation would be one step closer in the process to becoming a constitutional amendment. The amendment would state the chief justice must be selected through a peer election among the justices. The chief justice would hold the position for two years, and would be eligible for peer re-election. Under current law, the chief justice is selected by seniority.

Twenty-three other state supreme courts select their chief justice through a peer election. Wisconsin is one of four states to select chief justice based on seniority.

Former state Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox testified at a recent hearing that he supported changing the current selection process, calling it “antiquated.” Also at the hearing former state appeals court judge Daniel Larocque suggested that all circuit court judges be allowed to vote in the peer election for chief justice.

The legislation was passed during the 2013 legislative session as Joint Resolution 16, but all amendments to the state constitution must be passed by two consecutive state legislatures and by a ballot referendum. If the legislature passes the resolution quickly, voters could see the referendum on the ballot as soon as April 2015.

AJR1 was introduced by Representative Bob Hutton (R-Brookfield). SJR2, the senate companion bill, was introduced by Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst).