The Wisconsin State Legislature has passed legislation that would potentially change how the Wisconsin Supreme Court chief justice is selected. The proposed amendment will now appear on the spring ballot as a referendum, and if a majority of voters approve it, the state constitution will be amended.
The amendment would require the chief justice 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 a 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.
AJR1 was introduced by Representative Bob Hutton (R-Brookfield). SJR2, the senate companion bill, was introduced by Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst).