Thank You, Justice Abrahamson!

June 18, 2019

by Matthew Rothschild, Executive Director

As Shirley Abrahamson retires as the longest serving justice in the history of the State of Wisconsin, I just wanted to say, “Thank you!”

Thank you for blazing a trail for other women in the judiciary. Abrahamson was the first woman appointed to be a judge in Wisconsin, and the first woman justice and chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Thank you for your legendary work habits and your dazzling intellect, which let you dance circles around most of your colleagues on the bench.

Thank you for your empathy for those who have been mistreated by employers or law enforcement or deprived of a fair trial. And thank you for deriding, in your words, the “legal and logical gymnastics” that other justices engaged in to rule against those who have been so mistreated.

Thank you for standing up for impartiality on the Court. On April 20, 2017, you and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley were the only two justices to vote to accept the petition by 54 retired judges who had urged the justices to tighten up their recusal rule. That rule, which had been written by none other than Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and the Wisconsin Realtors Association, said judges should decide for themselves whether to get off a case or not when questions arose about a conflict of interest. As you pointed out, the case law is clear here: “Due process requires recusal if there is an actual conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

Thank you for standing up for openness on the Court. In June of 2017, you and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley were the only two who voted to keep the Court’s administrative hearings in public.

Thank you for standing up for clean government and campaign finance reform. In July of 2015, when the conservatives on the Wisconsin Supreme Court let Gov. Scott Walker off the hook in the John Doe II investigation with a bogus claim that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution somehow forbids the State of Wisconsin from banning coordination between candidates and outside issue advocacy groups, you rightly pointed out: “No opinion of the United States Supreme Court or a federal court of appeals has established that the First Amendment forbids regulation of, or inquiry into, coordination between a candidate's campaign committee and issue advocacy groups…The United States Supreme Court has consistently treated coordinated expenditures as regulated contributions. The United States Supreme Court has not differentiated between coordinated expenditures made for issue advocacy purposes and coordinated expenditures made for express advocacy purposes. The key factor for the Court has been coordination.”

Thank you for defending the John Doe II prosecution when, on Dec. 2, 2015, the conservative justices fired the special prosecutor and shut down the John Doe II completely. As you wrote in your dissent, even the conservative majority, when it halted the case in July, said coordination between candidates and “express advocacy” groups would still be illegal, and you highlighted the fact that the special prosecutor had uncovered evidence that Walker had also engaged in this kind of coordination. “The legal arguments and evidence the Special Prosecutor presented to the John Doe Judge and to this court provide ‘reason to believe’ a crime was committed by coordinated express advocacy,” you noted, concluding: “The investigation into coordinated express advocacy should continue.”

Thank you for standing up for the law, and for little people.

Thank you for being a justice who had no patience for shoddy and shabby arguments.

Thank you for being a justice who would not tolerate injustice.

Thank you.