Perjury in Wisconsin: Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson Forsees the Future

Supreme court justices tend to be quite intelligent professionals, possessing sharp, analytical minds and an uncanny foresight into the ramifications of their decisions. But seeing into the future? Well, that’s usually the domain of soothsayers, Marty McFly or Nate Silver – unless you’re Wisconsin chief justice Shirley Abrahamson.

It’s no surprise that Abrahamson was not a fan of the recent voter-approved change to the state constitution, which allows members of the court to elect the chief justice every two years. With Wisconsin’s supreme court leaning 4-3 toward conservative justices, the liberal Abrahamson almost certainly will lose her position prior to the end of what would have been her 10-year term in 2019.

As such, it was also not a surprise that she would do anything possible to hang on to her position. Immediately, Abrahamson filed a federal lawsuit with the express purpose of saving her job, arguing that she is losing her right to serve out her 10-year term as chief justice. Wisconsin’s new constitutional amendment, she asserts, somehow violates her constitutional right of due process and equal protection.

What is surprising is that in filing a verified complaint, she apparently acted faster than humanly possible. Abrahamson executed her verification on April 6th – a full day before the vote on the referendum took place on April 7th. This means she made a statement “under penalty of perjury” about voters approving a referendum that hadn’t happened yet. It says explicitly that “On April 7, 2015, voters approved” the referendum, yet is dated the day before. Unless she can see the future, there’s no way she could have known that what she was saying was true.

Her lawsuit was already unseemly, as it runs contrary to the will of voters, who ultimately have the authority to use referendums to approve constitutional amendments. Even the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a paper that opposed the referendum, has called on her to drop her lawsuit. It’s not even as if she has everything to lose. If the court votes in a new chief justice, she will still continue serving as an associate justice. And yet this falsity in her complaint must be taken seriously. False statements under oath have gotten attorneys disbarred.

Abrahamson has plenty of ways to try and wiggle out of this misstatement. She could argue that she did not engage in any false swearing because she would not have filed the lawsuit if the referendum had failed. But it can’t help her case. On the contrary, it only vindicates the decision by Wisconsin voters to change the state constitution. No one wants a chief justice obsessed with holding on to power – especially not when Abrahamson is already the longest serving justice in the history of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, having assumed office in 1976.

One critic’s joke perfectly summed up the problem: “She’s always thought she was above the law. But this shows she’s above the law of time and space.”