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|Associate Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court|
|Assumed office |
|Appointed by||Patrick Lucey|
|Preceded by||Horace W. Wilkie|
|Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court|
August 1, 1996 – April 29, 2015
|Preceded by||Roland B. Day|
|Succeeded by||Patience D. Roggensack|
|Born||December 17, 1933|
New York, New York, U.S.
|Alma mater||New York University (A.B.)|
Indiana University (J.D.)
University of Wisconsin-Madison (LL.M., S.J.D.)
Shirley S. Abrahamson (born December 17, 1933) is an associate justice and former chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. She was appointed to the court in 1976 by Governor Patrick Lucey, becoming the first woman to serve on Wisconsin's high court. She served as the only woman on the court from 1976 until 1993. Abrahamson was re-elected to the Supreme Court in 1979, 1989, 1999, and 2009. She became Chief Justice on August 1, 1996 and served in that capacity until April 29, 2015, when Patience Drake Roggensack was elected to the position.
Abrahamson initiated a federal legal challenge seeking reinstatement as Chief Justice. On May 15, 2015 U.S. District Judge James Peterson denied her request to be reinstated as chief justice. Her appeal of this decision was dismissed on July 31, 2015. and she withdrew her lawsuit on November 10, 2015.
Early life and education
Abrahamson was born and raised in New York City, where she attended Hunter College High School. She earned an A.B. magna cum laude from New York University in 1953, a J.D. with high distinction from Indiana University Law School in 1956, and an S.J.D. in American legal history from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1962.
Abrahamson practiced law in Madison, Wisconsin for 14 years and was a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School. She was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1976 by Governor Patrick Lucey, becoming the first woman to serve on Wisconsin's high court. She became Chief Justice on August 1, 1996 and served in that capacity until April 29, 2015.
Abrahamson has authored more than 450 majority opinions and participated in more than 3500 written decisions of the court. She has been involved in deciding more than 10,000 petitions for review, bypasses, certifications and lawyer and judicial discipline cases.
She is a member of the Council of the American Law Institute and serves on the board of directors of the Dwight D. Opperman Institute of Judicial Administration at New York University School of Law. She has been President of the Conference of Chief Justices and Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Center for State Courts and has served on the board of visitors of several law schools. She served as a member of the United States National Academies Committee on Science, Technology and Law, and was chair of the National Institute of Justice Committee on the Future of DNA Evidence.
In 1997 she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 1998 she was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society, two scholarly societies in the United States. She is a member of the Wisconsin Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2004 she was awarded the first annual Dwight Opperman Award for Judicial Excellence by the American Judicature Society. She has received the Margaret Brent Award from the American Bar Association.
She has received numerous other awards and fifteen honorary degrees from universities and colleges across the U.S. She is featured in Great (Top 100) American Judges: An Encyclopedia (2003), The Lawdragon 500 Leading Lawyers in America (2005), and The Lawdragon 500 Leading Judges in America (2006). She won re-election on April 7, 2009, defeating Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Randy Koschnick.
In April, 2015 voters approved an amendment to the state constitution that changed the way that the chief justice of the Supreme Court was selected. Previously the justice with the most seniority held the position, but the amendment allowed court members to choose the chief justice. On April 29, 2015, the day the vote canvass was certified by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, the justices elected Justice Patience D. Roggensack as the new chief justice. According to Abrahamson's own opinion in the 2002 case, State v. Gonzalez, ""[U]nless a constitutional amendment provides otherwise, it takes effect upon the certification of a statewide canvass of the votes," Since that date, as there is no wording in the amendment saying it should not take effect after the canvass, and no stay or temporary restraining order on the amendment, Justice Roggensack became the Chief Justice, and she has acted in that position in court business since then.
Abrahamson filed a federal lawsuit challenging the immediate implementation of the constitutional amendment, contending that she should remain chief justice until the expiration of her current term in 2019. Her lawsuit was heard on May 15, 2015. Five of the seven justices asked the federal judge to dismiss Abrahamson's lawsuit. That day, the federal court denied Abrahamson's request for immediate reinstatement as Chief Justice. U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson determined there was no harm in Roggensack serving as chief justice while Abrahamson's lawsuit continued.
On May 27 she appealed that decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. However, she dropped the lawsuit on November 10, after deciding that, no matter what happened in her lawsuit, her term would be close to ending by the time the litigation finally ended.
On May 30, 2018, Abrahamson announced she would not seek re-election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2019.
Abrahamson and her husband, Seymour, were married for 54 years; they had one son.
- Jeff Glaze - Wisconsin State Journal. "Federal judge tosses Shirley Abramhamson lawsuit". madison.com.
- Beck, Molly (10 November 2015). "Shirley Abrahamson drops lawsuit to regain chief justice title". Wisconsin State Journal. Retrieved 6 April 2016.
- Johnston, Laurie. "Competition Intense Among Intellectually Gifted 6th Graders for Openings at Hunter College High School; Prominent Alumni Program for Seniors", The New York Times, March 21, 1977; accessed May 11, 2010.
- Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau. Wisconsin Blue Book 2017-2018. Madison: Wisconsin Legislature Joint Committee on Legislative Organization, 2017, p. 6.
- "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
- Steven Walters. "Election 2009 - State Supreme Court - Abrahamson solidly beats Koschnick". jsonline.com.
- Patrick Marley. "State high court quickly ousts Shirley Abrahamson as chief justice", The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 29, 2015. Retrieved May 1, 2015.
- Rob Schultz - Wisconsin State Journal. "Judge denies Shirley Abrahamson's bid to be immediately reinstated as chief justice". madison.com.
- The Associated Press. "Shirley Abrahamson files appeal in attempt to stay chief justice". jsonline.com.
- Shawn Johnson. "Longtime Wisconsin Justice Shirley Abrahamson Won't Seek Re-Election". Wisconsin Public Radio, May 30, 2018.
- Seymour Abrahamson. Cress Funeral Home & Cremation Service.
- Wisconsin Justice Shirley Abrahamson says she has cancer but plans to finish term in 2019
Roland B. Day
| Chief Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court
Patience D. Roggensack
Horace W. Wilkie
| Associate Justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court