New SCOWIS majority ends first week by taking power away from chief justice

MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- The new liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court wrapped up its first week by creating a new "administrative committee" and giving it powers once held by the chief justice, who's a conservative.

Justice Rebecca Dallet confirmed "the majority of justices" on the court met Friday and approved a series of changes to rules and procedures.

Among those changes is the creation of a new "Supreme Court Administrative Committee." The liberal majority then voted to give that committee a number of responsibilities that once belonged to the chief justice.

One of those new powers is oversight of the state courts director. Earlier this week, the court fired former courts director Randy Koschnick.

The liberal majority named Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Audrey Skwierawski as interim courts director, a move Republican legislative leaders are poised to challenge, citing previous precedent stating judges cannot take on additional public trust positions during their elected term.

The rules changes also strip the chief justice of their power to appoint members of the court's planning and policy; those appointments are now to be made by the new committee.

Chief Justice Annette Kingsland Ziegler slammed the changes, saying in a statement Friday they happened in a "secret, unscheduled, illegitimate closed meeting."

Ziegler maintained any changes to the high court's rules and procedures should have happened in a scheduled meeting that happens with all seven justices present, and that meeting should happen during the court's normal business year, which runs from September through June.

"The rogue justices' attempt to go outside of this recognized procedure is an imposition of will and a raw exercise of overreaching power," Ziegler said.

Dallet said the changes were intended to make rules-making on the court more inclusive going forward. Her statement added the court would be creating a new "bipartisan task force" to study when justices should recuse themselves from certain cases.

"This initial series of actions is intended to be a first step in making our court more accessible and more accountable to the people of Wisconsin," Dallet said.

Dallet also disputed Ziegler's assertion Friday's meeting was unscheduled, and she blasted the chief justice's press release.

"On behalf of a majority of justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, I want to express my disappointment that the Chief Justice, rather than collegially participate in a scheduled meeting of the court today, is litigating issues normally discussed by Justices either in conference or through email, through media releases," Dallet said.

The court's internal operating procedures, which were adopted in 1984, read, "any internal operating procedure may be suspended or modified by majority vote of a quorum of the court."

The events of this new court's first week, which began Tuesday with the investiture of Justice Janet Protasiewicz, signal what could be a tumultuous time ahead for the court, which is already poised to decide the fate of Wisconsin's 1849 abortion ban and, after a lawsuit was filed Wednesday, rule on whether the state's legislative voting maps amount to an illegal partisan gerrymander.

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