By SCOTT BAUER
and TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Supreme Court challenger James Daley said Tuesday he wants to be the first justice to vote for a new chief of the high court.
His remarks came just before the state Senate passed a constitutional amendment that would allow for the seven justices to pick their own chief rather than have the position go to the most experienced member, as it has for 125 years.
Daley, a Rock County Circuit judge, is running against incumbent Justice Ann Walsh Bradley in the April 7 election. The race, although officially nonpartisan, is breaking down along party lines with conservatives supporting Daley and Democrats largely lining up behind Bradley.
Daley told the Wisconsin Technology Council’s board of directors during a question-and-answer session on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus that he believes in democracy and not giving the longest-serving justice the chief’s spot.
“I would really love to be the first justice to vote for my next chief,” Daley said.
Bradley, who spoke at the meeting just after Daley, opposes the amendment and said it’s an attempt to silence longtime Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson. Bradley and Abrahamson form the liberal minority on the court.
“There must be room,” Bradley said, “for more than one perspective, one voice, one view on the Supreme Court.”
The chief justice serves as the administrative head of the state court system and has a host of ceremonial duties but doesn’t have more official power than the other justices in deciding whether to take up a case or in reaching a ruling. Still, the four justices who make up the court’s conservative majority have been at odds with Abrahamson for years.
The constitutional amendment is up for a final vote in the state Assembly on Thursday. If it passes, as expected, it will appear on the April 7 ballot along with the Daley-Bradley race.
If voters approve the amendment, the conservatives will almost certainly remove Abrahamson from her post, although details about how that election would proceed would be left up to the justices. Democrats argued that Abrahamson, who was elected to a 10-year term in 2009, should at least be allowed to serve that out before being replaced as chief. Abrahamson, 81, has been chief justice for more than 18 of the nearly 39 years she’s been on the court.
Under the amendment, the chief justice would be selected every two years and there would be no limit on how long they could serve.
The amendment’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, said he wasn’t targeting Abrahamson. Justices in 22 states select their leader, Tiffany said. Democrats decried the proposal as a blatant power grab.
It passed on a 17-14 vote, with all Republicans in favor and all Democrats against.