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Senate approves Sykes

Sykes

Hon. Diane S. Sykes

The U.S. Senate has approved the appointment of State Supreme Court Justice Diane S. Sykes to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Following some discussion Thursday night, the Senate voted 70-27 to approve President George W. Bush’s nomination of Sykes to succeed Judge John L. Coffey.

Although some Democrats had raised questions about Sykes’ appointment, Sens. Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold remained steadfast in their support of her.

During discussions on the Senate floor, Kohl pointed to Sykes’ background and strengths. He praised “her devotion to public service” and her qualifications for the position. Kohl also noted the support for Sykes from the bipartisan Wisconsin Federal Nominating Commission which recommended her as one of four possible candidates.

“Justice Sykes has earned a reputation as a fine lawyer and a distinguished jurist during her career in Wisconsin,” Kohl said. “Lawyers throughout the state, regardless of their political persuasion, echo this sentiment.”

Following her approval, Feingold praised the federal nomination process used for Wisconsin judicial candidates during the last 25 years. He also lauded Sykes’ skills as a lawyer and as a jurist.

“There are a number of topics on which we do not see eye to eye, but I believe Justice Sykes is well qualified to fill this seat on the Seventh Circuit,” Feingold said. “In particular, I have great respect for her commitment to public service.”

In a statement released Friday, Sykes, 46, commented on her Senate confirmation.

“I am very pleased that my nomination to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has been confirmed by the United States Senate,” Sykes stated. “It is an honor to have been chosen by President Bush for this position, and I greatly appreciate the support of Senator Kohl and Senator Feingold throughout the confirmation process.

Shriner

“I think she showed herself in her years on the Supreme Court … to be a very thoughtful and painstaking appellate judge, a deep thinker and a good writer. I can only anticipate that she will bring those qualities to the Seventh Circuit.”

Thomas L. Shriner, Jr.
Foley & Lardner

“Serving on the Milwaukee County Circuit Court and the Wisconsin Supreme Court has been a great privilege, and deeply rewarding for me. I will always be grateful to the people of Milwaukee County and the State of Wisconsin for giving me the opportunity to serve in the judiciary. I look forward to the opportunity to serve the people of Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana as a member of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.”

Supreme Court Opinions

Sykes’ colleagues on the state Supreme Court expressed a mixture of feelings about her appointment — support and confidence in her abilities, but sadness at losing her input on the state’s high court.

“I have enjoyed having Diane Sykes on the court,” Chief Justice Abrahamson observed in a released statement. “Al-though I am always sad to see a justice leave, I am happy that she has this opportunity. My colleagues and I wish her well.”

Justice Jon P. Wilcox noted that the Supreme Court’s loss is the Seventh Circuit’s gain. He pointed to Sykes’ insight, strong writing and advocacy for clear and concise decisions among her talents.

“We’re losing an outstanding member of our court,” Wilcox said. “She has made enormous contributions to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. I personally will miss her.”

Justice Ann Walsh Bradley said she was very happy for her colleague. Bradley said both she and the court have benefited from Sykes’ presence on the court.

“One of the things she brought to the Supreme Court for me was a person I so enjoyed working with,” Bradley said. “She wasn’t just a colleague, but also a friend and a person I could talk with and explore the law with. She certainly cares deeply about the law and cares deeply about getting it right. She’s willing to put in the necessary hours and the necessary energy to make that happen.”

All three justices were on the Supreme Court when Gov. Tommy Thompson appointed Sykes in 1999. She was elected to that seat the following year.

Thomas L. Shriner Jr., a partner at Foley & Lardner, is a long-time friend of Sykes. He also was one of the four finalists for the Seventh Circuit seat. Shriner said he was very happy for Sykes.

“I think she showed herself in her years on the Supreme Court … to be a very thoughtful and painstaking appellate judge, a deep thinker and a good writer,” Shriner said. “I can only anticipate that she will bring those qualities to the Seventh Circuit.”

State Bar President R. George Burnett said “I think Justice Sykes will do an exceptional job at the Seventh Circuit. She is a bright, hard-working and articulate judge.”

Seat to Fill

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Wisconsin Court System

Sykes’ departure for the federal appellate bench will leave a vacancy on the state Supreme Court for Gov. Jim Doyle to fill. His office is accepting applications for the position through July 12. Applicants must be members in good standing of the State Bar of Wisconsin.

There has been a great deal of speculation regarding where that nomination should come from. Sykes is the only Supreme Court member who spent time on the Milwaukee County Circuit Court bench.

Given the impact that Milwaukee and Southeastern Wisconsin have on cases going to the Supreme Court, Shriner said he would like to see the next one or two Supreme Court appointments come from that area.

“I hope very much that he is looking to make an appointment from Milwaukee County, or at least Southeastern Wisconsin,” Shriner said of Doyle’s appointment process. “There is no one other than Justice Sykes who has ever lived in, worked in, practiced in, or been a judge in the entire Southeast quadrant of this state including Milwaukee County. It’s the source of very much of the business of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.”

Whoever is appointed to succeed Sykes will not face an election until 2008. Three other justices will be up for re-election in each of the next three years.

Tony Anderson can be reached by email.

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