Supreme Court

The highest court and “court of last resort” in the state is the Wisconsin Supreme Court.  The supreme court is in session from September through June, and each year reviews about a thousand petitions from lower courts, and selects only a little more than a hundred cases to actually review and decide. The cases they choose are often the most thorny appeals which require intricate interpretations of state law and the state constitution.

There are seven supreme court  judges in Wisconsin, and they are all referred to as “Justices”.  Supreme Court Justices are elected on a statewide basis at the Spring General Election.  They serve 10-year terms and until 2015 were led by the most senior member of the court, the Chief Justice. For years, Shirley Abrahamson was Chief Justice because of her long tenure on the court. However, in April of 2015  voters approved an amendment to the state constitution which calls for the Justices to vote to pick the Chief Justice. The Justices then picked Justice Patience Roggensack to be Chief Justice. However, Justice Shirley Abrahamson has filed a federal lawsuit, still pending, in an effort to reclaim her title.

The Chief Justice also has a very important power, which is to assign Reserve Judges to serve in circuit court or appeals court.  A Reserve Judge is a judge who has served at least four years on the bench, and has retired (not lost an election, but retired).  A Reserve Judge can hear a case anywhere in the state, and is assigned by the Chief Justice to courts where the caseload is heavy and they need extra help.

The state supreme court is supported by an elaborate administrative structure, which you can learn about on the state courts website.  Here you will find a number of resources to help you understand the structure of all the courts in Wisconsin, and other useful features.