Longtime Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Abrahamson dies
MADISON, Wisconsin (AP) - Shirley Abrahamson, the longest serving Wisconsin Supreme Court judge in state history and the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, has died. She was 87 years old.
Abrahamson, who also served as chief judge for 19 years, died Saturday after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, her son Dan Abrahamson told The Associated Press on Sunday.
Tony Evers, governor of Wisconsin, said in a statement that Abrahamson had "a larger-than-life influence" on the state advocacy and their legacy is defined "not just by being a first, but their lifework to ensure they don't the first will pave and light the way for the many women and others who would come after her. "
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Abrahamson has long been recognized as one of the finest law scholars nationally and a leader among state judges. She wrote more than 450 majority opinions and participated in more than 3,500 written decisions in Wisconsin's highest court during more than four decades. She retired in 2019 and moved to California to be closer to her family.
In 1993 then-President Bill Clinton considered taking it to the US Supreme Court, and it was later featured in the book Great American Judges: An Encyclopedia.
She told the Wisconsin State Journal in 2006 that she enjoyed being on the court.
“It's a mixture of sitting, reading, writing and thinking that I like to do. And it's quiet. On the other hand, all of the problems I work on are real problems by real people, and they matter, and it is important to the state of Wisconsin. That gives him an edge and stress, ”she said.
The New York native with the accent to prove it graduated from Indiana University Law School in 1956, three years after she married Seymour Abrahamson. The couple moved to Madison and their husband, a world-renowned geneticist, entered the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1961. He died in 2016.
She graduated from UW-Madison with a law degree in 1962, then worked as a professor and joined a law firm in Madison that was hired by the father of future Governor Jim Doyle.
Appointed Supreme Court of the State by the then government. Patrick Lucey in 1976, Abrahamson won re-election four times for ten years, starting in 1979. She broke the record for longest term in law in 2013, her 36th year on the court.
Abrahamson was in the majority when the court allowed a boy to sue for lead paint violations in 2005, despite being unable to prove which company made the product that made him sick - and reversed decades of precedent and opened paint companies to lawsuits for damages.
But Abrahamson was in the minority on several high profile cases later in her career, including in 2011 when the court upheld the law advocated by the then Republican government. Scott Walker effectively ended public workers' union rights and again in 2015 when the court ended a politically charged investigation against Walker and conservative groups.
Abrahamson's health began to fail in 2018, and she frequently missed court hearings. In May, she announced that she would no longer walk in 2019, and in August, announced that she had cancer.
Doyle, a former Wisconsin attorney general and two-term governor, called Abrahamson a pioneer and said he sought her advice when he first ran for Dane County District Attorney in the 1970s. Doyle's father, who was a federal judge, gave Abrahamson her first job outside of law school, Doyle said on Sunday.
"She was just the warmest, funniest, and dearest friend you can have," said Doyle.
Doyle has credited Abrahamson with the work of demystifying the court by holding hearings across the state and meeting with school groups and others to discuss his work.
Not only did Doyle break down barriers for women, he also stated that Abrahamson was an advocate for civil rights and civil liberties, a protector of constitutional rights, and a strong advocate of open government and public records.
Dan Abrahamson, a California lawyer, said his mother had her work and personal life separated.
"She was always there for dinner," he said. “She was always with me to do homework. ... As a mother, she brought all the energy and attention she had to do and all the care she brought into her professional life, including her family. "
Abrahamson was not without her enemies, both in court and among Republican lawmakers who proposed a 2015 constitutional amendment that resulted in her overthrow as chief justice. The voter-approved change allowed members of the court to elect the chief judge to oversee the state judicial system rather than requiring the title to go to the highest judge.
Abrahamson, who became chief in 1996, was quickly voted out of office by Conservative judges who held a majority in court at the time the new law went into effect in 2015. Justice patient Roggensack has been Chief Justice since then.
Although she often clashed with more conservative members of the court and received support from Liberals and Democrats, Abrahamson steadfastly claimed she was independent.
"When I joined the court, I received a voice - a voice I used without hesitation," Abrahamson said in May 2018. "The best expression of appreciation I can give to the people who choose and repeat me re-elected is: Continue to speak with the clarity, openness, and compassion that come from a life I have tried to dedicate to service and justice for all. "
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