Time to say goodbye to Shirley Abrahamson

We’ve talked about it before, how wonderful it is to have every single thing on the list accomplished, plus the bonus of new district lines for the next decade. Some of us are optimistic the Republican majorities will continue. What else do you want?

Randy Melchert showed me something new the other day that I didn’t even know I wanted, but now that I’ve seen it, I’m kind of obsessed. He says there’s a way for the legislature to declare a mandatory retirement age for State Supreme Court Judges.

In Abrahamson’s own words:

In 1977 the constitution was amended to provide that the legislature might prescribe by law a retirement age of not less than seventy years. The legislature has not, to date, enacted a mandatory retirement age for justices.

And sure enough, there it is:

Justices and judges: eligibility for office; retirement.
SECTION 24. [As created April 1955 and amended April 1968 and April 1977]

(2) Unless assigned temporary service under subsection (3), no person may serve as a supreme court justice or judge of a court of record beyond the July 31 following the date on which such person attains that age, of not less than 70 years, which the legislature shall prescribe by law.

Now I find it interesting the word “shall” is in that constitutional bit. Not may, not will, but shall. Shall is imperative. Is it in the law? Not that I can find. Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson penned her book in 2003, and it wasn’t around then. If it isn’t law, can’t one argue that the Legislature has been derelict in this duty for over thirty years?

By the way, seventy years is fine with me. That catches Abrahamson and lets David Prosser have another couple of years.

Yes. I want that. Put it on the list. Anything else I’m missing?


  1. in your scenario a new law or amendment to the law is ex post facto and is illegal. she would be grandfathered in for the remainder of her term. interesting that US Supremes have no mandatory retirement age and maybe fed judges also. it may also run afoul of the US Constitution.
    she was elected by a wide margin and that would be a factor to consider. seniors have a great deal of knowledge to offer and should not be singled out because of age.

  2. Somehow I knew you’d be against that one, Dick. That was in the constitution since 1977, why wouldn’t it apply to her?

    P.S. You know better than to think this is about her age.

  3. The Lorax says:

    I struggle with judicial term limits. They allow a level of flexibility and independence that we don’t see in other sectors of government. I think i’d like to see legislative term limits enacted first.

  4. This isn’t a term limit, it’s a mandatory retirement, and it’s already in the constitution. Why is it not in effect?

  5. Randy in Richmond says:

    I don’t know if the rule is established by the legislature or the Court itself, but the Chief Justice being determined by the Justice with longest service is a bad rule. However, I can think of no system better unless the position rotates every so many years on a set basis. The fallacy of the present method is the assumption the judges are non-partisian, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

  6. I’d still enjoy knowing what the Chief Justice title brings. I really haven’t seen anything on it.

  7. no Cindy, i am reluctant to be in favor of madatory retirement age in either the private or public sector. we lose too much experience and knowledge.some companies keep retirees on as consultants after retirement. some do not. retirement should not be political. i’m not good at links but log on to American Judicature Society which recites that in WI the CJ term is indefnite (seniority) and then recites mandatory retirement. read it yourselves as i am not an expert in that field and i pass to the experts. also see the link Wisconsin Court System. on the surface your point has merit. on the legal precedent it is open to interpretation by a higher authority.

  8. for the record, i have not supported or campaigned for any of the present supreme court justices. in the past i did for Justices: Bob Hansen; Lou Ceci and Don Steinmetz.

  9. John Foust says:

    Psstt! She was appointed in 1976 by Governor Lucey, and she was 43 years of age. You are quoting the Constitution.

  10. BrkfldDad says:

    While it’s means to an end (bye bye Shirley), I wouldn’t support a mandatory 70 year old retirement age for justices. That being said, the lack of legislation supporting/enforcement of the Constitutional change is interesting. What changed from 4/55 to 4/65 and then from 4/65 to 4/77?

  11. Randy in Richmond says:

    This is the Wisconsin Constitution answer to your question.

    “The chief justice of the supreme court shall be the administrative
    head of the judicial system and shall exercise this
    administrative authority pursuant to procedures adopted by the
    supreme court. The chief justice may assign any judge of a court
    of record to aid in the proper disposition of judicial business in
    any court of record except the supreme court.”

    This does not address the Court’s own rules and procedures.

  12. How about 75?

    And thanks, Randy! That answers that.

  13. another problem is that the mandatory ret age for judges leaves open an appointment by the Governor, as stated above, and of which those participants stated knew little or nothing about the function of the supreme court. That Governor was an extreme ridged politician who saw the state as a place for political gain. from my blogs there is no support for political judicial appointments. when given the choice governors choose to appoint rathere than to elect.