Wisconsin’s legal community plans to hold a farewell ceremony Tuesday for outgoing state Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson that will feature a video tribute from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The Wisconsin State Bar Association and the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Marquette University law schools coordinated the ceremony, which will be held in the Capitol rotunda.
The highlight will be Ginsburg’s video, according to the program. Gov. Tony Evers and former Gov. Jim Doyle, both Democrats, are slated to speak. So are former state Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske and 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diane Skyes, who also served on the state’s high court.
A New York City native with the accent to prove it, the liberal-leaning Abrahamson has long been regarded as a top legal scholar nationally and a leader among state judges. She has authored more than 450 majority opinions and participated in more than 3,500 written decisions during her more than four decades on the state Supreme Court.
Then-Gov. Patrick Lucey, a Democrat, appointed Abrahamson to the high court in 1976, making her the state’s first female justice. She was re-elected four times to 10-year terms starting in 1979. She broke the record for longest serving justice in 2013, her 36th year on the court. Then-President Bill Clinton considered putting her on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993 and she was later profiled in the book “Great American Judges: An Encyclopedia.”
But her later years on the court were difficult. She repeatedly clashed with conservative justices and Republican lawmakers, angering them so much that GOP legislators starting pushing a constitutional amendment in 2015 that led to her removal as chief justice.
The amendment enabled the justices to choose their chief instead of giving the title to the most senior member of the court. The measure passed a statewide referendum to become part of the state constitution. Empowered by the change, conservatives on the court used their majority strip Abrahamson of her title and hand it to Pat Roggensack.
Abrahamson’s health began to fail in 2018. She frequently missed court hearings, participating by phone or not at all. That May, she announced she wouldn’t run again and in August, she revealed she has cancer.
Conservative-leaning Brian Hagedorn defeated liberal-leaning Lisa Neubuer in April to claim Abrahamson’s seat. He’ll be sworn in on Aug. 1, increasing the court’s conservative majority to 5-2.