Wisconsin Assembly passes state Supreme Court chief justice amendment

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MADISON, Wisconsin — The Wisconsin Assembly has passed a constitutional amendment that would rework how state Supreme Court justices pick their leader.

The Wisconsin Constitution states that the justice with the most seniority is the chief justice. But the court's conservative majority has been chafing under the leadership of liberal-leaning Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson. Under the Republican-authored amendment, the justices would vote on a chief. That would allow the majority to oust Abrahamson.

Republicans say they want a more democratic process. Democrats counter the GOP wants to punish Abrahamson.

The state Senate approved the measure Tuesday. The Assembly passed it 62-34 Thursday, setting up a statewide referendum on the proposal as part of the April 7 election.

Abrahamson said in a statement the amendment would tarnish the constitution and threaten the court's independence.

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