U.S. District Court Judge James Peterson ruled that Patience Roggensack could remain chief justice while Justice Abrahamson’s, the former chief justice, lawsuit unfolds. Justice Abrahamson sued shortly after Wisconsin voters chose to amend the state constitution to allow the state supreme court justices to determine who amongst them would serve as chief justice. Prior to the referendum the longest serving justice on the court took on the role of chief justice. Abrahamson became chief justice in 1996 and contends that she should retain the role until the end of her elected term. In a hearing deciding the issue, Judge Peterson said he did not see the irreparable harm of Chief Justice Roggensack administering the court system while this case is decided.
On April 29, the Government Accountability Board certified the constitutional amendment results, and later that day the court voted to have Patience Roggensack become chief justice. Justices Gableman, Ziegler, Prosser voted for Roggensack, and Justices Abrahamson, Bradley, and Crooks did not participate. Roggensack cast the deciding vote for herself.
Justice Abrahamson filed a lawsuit on April 8, a day after voters approved the amendment. In her complaint, Justice Abrahamson is seeking declaratory judgment from the court to determine when the new constitutional amendment will come into effect. She argues that the amendment is prospective only and therefore does not apply until the end of her elected term in 2019. Alternatively she argues that a retroactive application of the amendment would change the terms of her office which would violate the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Abrahamson argues that she has a property interest in her office and it is being taken without due process of law. She further argues that retroactive application of the amendment violates the Equal Protection Clause because no other elected official elected to a full term and still able to hold office would be “prematurely ousted from office on that basis.”
Judge Peterson has determined that the case can be decided without a trial. He will hand down his decision after July 1, the deadline for the last brief.