Shirley Abrahamson

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson would have to win support from a majority of her six colleagues on the Wisconsin Supreme Court to keep her leading role on the court if voters pass a constitutional amendment on the April 7 ballot. 

The state’s largest business lobby has contributed $600,000 to urge a “yes” vote April 7 on a measure that would likely unseat Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson as head of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, according to a report filed Monday with the state Government Accountability Board.

The pro-amendment group calls itself Vote Yes for Democracy. It reported Monday that it had raised $600,000 from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. The group reported spending $189,100 on radio ads boosting the constitutional amendment. It also plans to run pro-amendment TV ads, spokesman Brandon Scholz said.

WMC has spent millions of dollars over the past decade in state Supreme Court races on behalf of conservative candidates.

Meanwhile, the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee released a radio ad Monday featuring former Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske urging a “no” vote on the amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution.

The anti-amendment group, going under the name of Make Your Vote Count, reported it had raised $80,000 for the effort, according to a GAB filing. The Greater Wisconsin Committee also has spent millions — although less than WMC — backing liberal court candidates in recent years.

The ballot measure would abolish a more than 125-year-old constitutional provision requiring the longest-serving justice to serve as the chief justice.

Under the proposed constitutional amendment, the chief would be elected every two years by a majority vote of his or her peers for no more than six consecutive years.

The proposal has obvious implications for Abrahamson, who has served on the court for 36 years, 19 of them as chief justice. Abrahamson is considered a liberal member of the court along with Justice Ann Walsh Bradley.

Bradley is seeking re-election April 7 for a third, 10-year term against challenger Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley.

Four current court members are considered part of the conservative bloc, including Justice Pat Roggensack, who is likely to run for chief justice if the amendment passes.

A third group also has registered in opposition to the ballot question. Fair Courts Wisconsin from Washington, D.C., reports raising about $2,200.

The group is run by Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, which opposes the influence of money in judicial races.

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