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Judicial selection in Wisconsin

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Judicial selection in the states
Judicial selection in Wisconsin
Seal of Wisconsin.png
Wisconsin Supreme Court
Method:   Non-partisan election of judges
Term:   10 years
Wisconsin Court of Appeals
Method:   Non-partisan election of judges
Term:   6 years
Wisconsin Circuit Courts
Method:   Non-partisan election of judges
Term:   6 years

Selection of state court judges in Wisconsin occurs exclusively through non-partisan elections. At the end of each judge's term, he or she must run for re-election to continue serving.[1]

With judicial elections held in April, judges' terms begin on August 1 following their election.[2]

Selection process

See also: Non-partisan election of judges

The 7 justices of the supreme court, 16 judges of the court of appeals and 241 judges of the circuit court are selected in an identical manner. They are chosen by the people in statewide non-partisan elections, after which supreme court justices serve 10-year terms and the others serve six-year terms. All judges must run for re-election if they wish to continue serving after their term expires.[1]

To learn more about these elections, visit the Wisconsin judicial elections page.

Selection of the chief justice or judge

The guidelines for selecting a chief justice or judge for each court differ:

  • The chief justice of the supreme court is chosen by seniority and serves in that capacity indefinitely.
  • The chief judge of the court of appeals is chosen by the supreme court to serve a three-year term.
  • The chief judge of each circuit court is chosen by the supreme court to serve a two-year term.[1]

See news below: Conservative lawmakers propose changes to supreme court


To serve on the appellate or circuit courts, a judge must be:

  • a qualified elector in the state;
  • a qualified elector of his or her circuit (for circuit judges); and
  • licensed to practice law in the state for at least 5 years.[1]


See also: Gubernatorial appointment of judges

In the event of a midterm vacancy, the governor appoints a replacement. If the vacancy occurs between December 1 and the spring election, the appointee must stand for election the following spring. If the vacancy occurs earlier, judges stand for re-election during the next spring election in which no other justice or judge from their district is being elected.[1]

The governor solicits recommendations from an Advisory Council on Judicial Selection in making his appointments, but he is not required to choose one of the suggested appointees.[3][1]

Municipal Courts

See also: Non-partisan election of judges

Like appellate and circuit judges, judges of the Wisconsin Municipal Courts are chosen in non-partisan elections. They serve four-year terms that begin on May 1, though local ordinances may override that term length.[4][5] Eligibility requirements vary from court to court, with some municipalities requiring judges to have law degrees, but all judges must participate in a continuing judicial education program.[6]


Selection methods in Wisconsin have undergone several changes since the inception of the judiciary. Below is a timeline noting the various stages, from the most recent to the earliest:

In the news

Conservative lawmakers propose changes to supreme court

The Republican-dominated Wisconsin State Legislature is considering two changes to the state supreme court. One measure would change the way the chief justice of the court is chosen. Whereas currently the most senior member of the court serves as the chief justice, the proposed method gives the justices the power to choose a chief. If this method took effect, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson would most likely lose the position, since she part of the liberal minority on the court.

The second suggested change would set a mandatory retirement age for justices, possibly at 75 years of age. This measure could push Abrahamson, who is 81, off the court entirely. Legislators pushing these changes deny that they are targeting Abrahamson. In 1977, voters approved an amendment to the constitution allowing lawmakers to set an age of mandatory requirement, but it was never done. Republican Representative Dean Knudson said:

My motivation is solely to uphold the Constitution...This is a duty and obligation of the Legislature that we have not carried through on.[8]

In a written statement, Abrahamson said,

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 nonpartisan independent branch of government.[8]

The law would affect other justices as well; Justice N. Patrick Crooks is 76, Patience Roggensack is 74, and David T. Prosser is 72. Ann Walsh Bradley, who is seeking re-election, is 64, and will turn 75 near the end of her next term if she wins. If Judge James Daley wins, he would turn 75 three years before the end of his term. Bradley also gave a written statement, in which she conveyed concern that the changes would "retroactively nullify the popular vote of the people who elected a chief justice and justices for 10-year terms," if they took effect right away. Daley supports having the justices choose a chief of the court, but does not support an age of mandatory retirement.[9][10]

On January 20, the amendment regarding the selection method of the chief justice passed in the Wisconsin State Senate. The vote was along party lines. The Wisconsin State Assembly also passed the amendment later that week. It will therefore be proposed to voters on the April 7 ballot.[11][12]

Selection of federal judges

United States district court judges, who are selected from each state, go through a different selection process than that of state judges.

The district courts are served by Article III federal judges who are appointed for life, during "good behavior." They are usually first recommended by senators (or members of the House, occasionally). The President of the United States of America nominates judges, who must then be confirmed by the United States Senate in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution.[13]

Step ApprovedA Candidacy Proceeds DefeatedD Candidacy Halts
1. Recommendation made by Congress member to the President President nominates to Senate Judiciary Committee President declines nomination
2. Senate Judiciary Committee interviews candidate Sends candidate to Senate for confirmation Returns candidate to President, who may re-nominate to committee
3. Senate votes on candidate confirmation Candidate becomes federal judge Candidate does not receive judgeship

See also

External links


WisconsinWisconsin Supreme CourtWisconsin Court of AppealsWisconsin Circuit CourtsWisconsin Municipal CourtsUnited States District Court for the Eastern District of WisconsinUnited States District Court for the Western District of WisconsinUnited States bankruptcy court, Eastern District of WisconsinUnited States bankruptcy court, Western District of WisconsinUnited States Court of Appeals for the Seventh CircuitWisconsin countiesWisconsin judicial newsWisconsin judicial electionsJudicial selection in WisconsinWisconsinTemplate.jpg