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Judge denies Abrahamson request to block amendment (UPDATE)

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday denied Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s request for a temporary restraining order blocking a constitutional amendment that likely would lead to her demotion.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson said Abrahamson does not face the risk of irreparable injury since the constitutional amendment she’s seeking to block won’t take effect until at least April 29.

Abrahamson filed the request Wednesday, one day after voters approved the amendment. It gives the seven justices on the Supreme Court the power to choose the chief justice, ending the 126-year practice of having it go to the most senior member.

Abrahamson, one of two liberal justices on the court, was expected to be voted out by the four-justice conservative majority.

Abrahamson, who has been chief justice since 1996, sued less than 24 hours after polls closed, saying that the amendment should not take effect until her term ends in four years. She also asked the judge to block the other six justices on the court from moving forward with implementation.

Peterson ruled that Abrahamson did not show why he should take the extraordinary step of blocking the law before he hears from the defendants. Peterson also noted that the vote to approve the amendment won’t be certified by state election officials until April 29, negating the need for emergency action now.

However, he did allow for Abrahamson to renew her motion “if new evidence shows the need for it.”

Peterson set a hearing on the case for April 21 and promised a “prompt resolution.”

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Abrahamson’s attorney, Robert Peck at the Center for Constitutional Litigation in Washington, did not immediately return email and phone messages seeking comment. A spokeswoman for the state Department of Justice, which is the defendant in the case, did not immediately respond to an email.

Abrahamson argued in her lawsuit that changing the selection process immediately would shorten the 10-year term of office to which she was elected in 2009. She argued that she ran as chief justice and her removal from that position before her term ends would violate her constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

The amendment was put on the ballot by the Republican-controlled Legislature, and opponents said it was a clear attempt to remove Abrahamson, a member of the court since 1976.

Under the new amendment, the justices have to decide every two years who they want to serve as chief justice. There are no specifics about how that is to be done or when the first decision has to be made.

The chief serves as lead administrator for the state court system, with power to assign judges and justices for cases below the Supreme Court level, designate and assign reserve judges and schedule oral arguments before the high court, among other duties.

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