Depending even more than usual on who shows up, the spring elections could bring fundamental change to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The April 7 election promises to be an unusually low-turnout affair even for the spring contests, so everyone who votes will have outsized influence and any bloc of motivated voters could decide who sits on the Court and soon after, who leads it.
Incumbent Ann Walsh Bradley, firmly aligned with Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and the Court’s Liberal minority, seeks re-election facing a challenge from Rock County Circuit Judge James Daley—who may or may not be a Conservative but would in no way be likely to align with the Liberals.
This distinction is consequential because the nominal 4-3 Conservative majority that exists today would expand—presumably most of the time—to 5-2 if Daley is elected. If Bradley returns for another 10-year term the status quo would remain and the movement of a single vote would continue deciding many issues, especially those with broad philosophical implications.
Adding interest, if Bradley is re-elected and if voters fulfill her wishes and reject or simply overlook a constitutional referendum tucked away at the bottom of the ballot, she will be the next Chief Justice, succeeding Abramson on the sole, currently-existing criterion of seniority.
The proposed amendment, having made the requisite two trips through the Legislature with an election in between, will be written into the state Constitution if a majority votes “yes” on April 7th. It would replace seniority with a vote of the seven sitting Justices, to elect a chief for a two-year term.