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Voters seek to dismiss Abrahamson challenge of amendment

By SCOTT BAUER
Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Five voters asked a federal court on Monday to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, arguing that she shouldn’t be allowed to delay a newly approved constitutional amendment expected to lead to her demotion.

The voters are all conservative activists and include the two leaders of Citizens for Responsible Government based in Milwaukee. They are represented by the same law firm hired by Wisconsin Club for Growth to fight an investigation into alleged illegal coordination between Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall campaign and other conservative groups.

Voters on April 7 approved, by a 6-point margin, a constitutional amendment changing how the chief justice is selected. Instead of it going automatically to the most senior member of the court, the seven justices would pick.

Faced with almost certain removal from her post by the conservative majority of the court, the liberal Abrahamson filed her lawsuit on April 8. She argued that the amendment should not take effect until her term ends in four years. A hearing before U.S. District Judge James Peterson is set for April 21, eight days before the state elections board is expected to make the election results final.

“The office of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin is not Justice Abrahamson’s personal property,” voters’ attorney David Rivkin wrote in the motion to dismiss her lawsuit. “It belongs to the people of Wisconsin, and their will is clear.”

Their filing is the first in defense of the amendment. The state Department of Justice has yet to comment on the case, which names the other six Supreme Court justices and a variety of state officials as defendants.

Abrahamson, 81, has been on the court since 1976 and has been chief justice since 1996.

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.

Abrahamson contends that she ran for re-election as chief justice and changing the selection process immediately would shorten the 10-year term of office to which she was elected in 2009, resulting in a violation of her constitutional due process and equal protection rights.

But the voters, in their motion to dismiss, said it’s “absurd” to argue the amendment shouldn’t take effect immediately, Abrahamson’s claim is premature because she hasn’t been removed from her post and the federal court doesn’t have jurisdiction over what is a state issue.

Abrahamson’s attorney, Robert Peck, president of the Center for Constitutional Litigation in Washington, said he was reviewing the filing. He noted that the court would have to allow the voters to intervene in the case before it would consider the motion to dismiss.

Rivkin, on behalf of Wisconsin Club for Growth, in January asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take a case seeking to halt the investigation into Walker’s campaign and the other conservative groups after a federal appeals court said the issue should be resolved in state court.

Three other lawsuits related to the probe that do not involve Rivkin’s law firm are pending before Abrahamson and the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Rivkin said his Washington-based law firm of Baker Hostetler has no pending cases before the state Supreme Court.

The voters challenging Abrahamson’s lawsuit are CRG leaders Chris Kliesmet and Orville Seymer, along with Chris Martinson, Vince Schmuki and Dara Maillette.

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