Chief justice speaks out after new liberal court strips powers, weighs in on legal options
MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- A conflict between justices on the state Supreme Court has erupted into public disputes after liberals on the court made a series of changes to administrative powers and procedures within days of flipping the ideological balance of the court.
Tensions are high after members of the court's liberal majority stripped powers away from conservative Chief Justice Annette Ziegler, voted to adjust how the court operates, and fired the director of the state court system.
Political strategists predict these actions could lead to lawsuits, but Ziegler said she doesn't want that.
"I do not want to sue anyone, that is not good for the institution," Ziegler told CBS 58. "It's not good for any of us and I honestly think that's a ridiculous way to resolve the law when it's already resolved."
After the court voted on Friday to give the chief justice's powers to a new administrative committee, Ziegler accused the four liberal justices on the court of meeting in secret to implement the changes, which she said was unconstitutional.
Ziegler argues that to make such changes, seven justices must be present and be conducted during the court's business term, which runs from September through June.
"Just because there's a new sheriff in town doesn't mean the whole system should be put in chaos," Ziegler said.
Justice Rebecca Dallet, a member of the court's liberal majority, said in a statement all justices were notified of the meeting and criticized Ziegler for discussing her frustrations publicly instead of privately.
The court's internal operating procedures enacted in 1984 state, "any internal operating procedure may be suspended or modified by majority vote of a quorum of the court."
Brandon Scholz, a Republican strategist, believes the changes to how the court functions and the recent firing of former state court director Randy Koschnick could be challenged in court.
"Now, can they? Sure, they can, because they are in power. Is it right? I think that's going to be the question," Scholz said.
Democrats argue the series of changes to the court's procedures was expected after Justice Janet Protasiewicz was elected to serve a 10-year term to replace Justice Patience Roggensack, ultimately shifting the court from a conservative majority to liberal control.
"There's a new majority block for the first time in 15 years, of course some things were going to change," Joe Zepecki, a Democratic strategist, said. "No one needs to set their hair on fire over this and I fear that's what's happening."
Scholz predicted this won't be the last feud between justices as they prepared to weigh high-profile cases ranging from redistricting, abortion access and election laws.
"There's no longer a court of decorum, it's going to be a fist fight," Scholz said.
Conflicts between justices and changes to the court’s administrative powers are nothing new.
In 2015, Republicans successfully launched an effort to allow the courts majority to select its chief justice rather than have them use seniority status after voters approved through a constitutional amendment.
That resulted in former Chief Justice Shirly Abrahamson, a liberal leaning member, being removed from the position.