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Plan to change state Constitution one step closer to referendum

In one of its first orders of business, the Wisconsin Senate fast-tracked a vote on a plan the affects the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

\"It is strictly about politics, and shame on us if we vote for it.\" said Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) during debate Tuesday.

Sen. John Erpenbach (D-Madison) said, \"If constitutionally somebody went after you were elected to do, you would scream holy hell.\"

Democratic Senators fired up over a plan to change the way our state's top judge is picked. They spent almost two hours blasting a Republican backed plan, saying it's another attempt to grab power, and saying Republicans simply have it out for current Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

Republicans had a simple response to that. \"This is not about the current Chief Justice.\" countered resolution author Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst).

The plan would have the seven members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court elect its Chief Justice. Right now, the longest serving member is the Chief Justice. \"This constitutional amendment, when I introduced it in the previous session, was all about passing a provision that will stand the test of time.\" Tiffany explained.

Republicans used the 17 to 14 majority to kill all Democratic amendments, and passed the plan with that same party line vote. That means if the resolution does become an amendment, Abrahamson could be removed from her role if the other justices vote for someone else.

In a written statement from Abrahamson, she referred to this resolution and another proposal to lower a justice's mandatory retirement age when writing, \"To the extent that either enactment affects presently sitting judges and justices, it ignores and overturns the vote of the people. The people elected the members of the judiciary for a fixed term and a set office. The Wisconsin constitution should not be used to target judges. If the Legislature adopts these proposals it is frustrating the electorate and injecting the ugliness of partisan politics into the judiciary, a non-partisan independent branch of government.\"

The Assembly will take up its version of the amendment plan on Thursday. If passed, voters will be asked a referendum question in April. If they approve, it's going to amend Wisconsin's Constitution.

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