Shirley Abrahamson

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Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson - Source: WUWM

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson is the longest serving state Supreme Court justices in U.S. history and one of the most prolific. She was the first woman justice appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court by Governor Pat Lucey in 1976.

2016 is Abrahamson’s 40th year on the bench. To mark the occasion, U.S. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg released a statement to the Capital Times: “Among U.S. jurists, Shirley Abrahamson is the very best, the most courageous and sage, the least self-regarding. Her speeches and commentary inspire others to follow in her way. She never forgets the people law exists (or should exist) to serve. For her 40 years on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, she merits a rousing Brava.”[1]

Abrahamson was re-elected to the Supreme Court in 1979, 1989, 1999, and 2009. She became chief justice on August 1, 1996 and served in that capacity until April 29, 2015, when Patience Drake Roggensack was elected chief by the conservative majority on the court. Abrahamsson lost her position as chief justice only after special interests poured money into a ballot measure to change the state constitution and the way in which the chief justice is chosen.[2]


Special Interests Choose Chief Justice

For 126 years under the Wisconsin's Constitution, the title of Chief Justice has been given to the longest serving member of the court. State politics became extremely polarized after the GOP take over of the the governor’s mansion, Assembly and Senate in 2010. Governor Walker's Act 10 bill, stripping public sector unions of their collective bargaining rights, sparked mass protests and 15 historic recall elections. Most aspects of Governor Walker's extreme agenda were being challenged in court. Special interests moved to unseat Abrahamson who had frequently sided with workers and consumers against big business in major cases.

In early 2015, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Republicans in the state legislature planned to introduce two bills that could affect Abrahamson's tenure and position as chief justice. One proposal being floated would set a mandatory retirement age, likely at 75 and without an exemption for current sitting judges. Another proposed bill would put before state voters a constitutional amendment to have the court vote on the chief justice, rather than the position being taken by the most senior justice. State Senators Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) and Dean Knudson, sponsors of the proposed bills, both stated that they were not targeting Abrahamson.[3]

In a statement, Abrahamson suggested that the two proposals would be "injecting the ugliness of partisan politics into the judiciary, a nonpartisan independent branch of government," and fellow Supreme Court Justice Anne Walsh Bradley said, "The real question is whether the legislative proposals can retroactively nullify the popular vote of the people who elected a chief justice and justices for 10-year terms. To suggest that the Legislature can or should adopt either measure appears to elevate politics over law."[3]

The initiative passed in a low turn out election April 2015, after Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Wisconsin's most significant lobby for corporate interests, unleashed a $600,000 ad blitz “Vote Yes for Democracy.”[2] Just hours after election results were certified, four conservative justices voted by e-mail to replace Abrahamson.

Standing for Openness and Regular Order During John Doe Investigation of Walker and Dark Money Groups

In the “John Doe” investigation into potentially illegal coordination between Governor Scott Walker and “independent” groups, a bipartisan group of prosecutors alleged that the Walker campaign illegally coordinated fundraising and expenditures with Wisconsin Club for Growth (WiCFG) and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce during the 2011 and 2012 recall campaigns. Although arguments in the John Doe case were scheduled for April 17 and 20, in an effort to make sure no facts of the case that might be harmful to the defendants were leaked, the court took the unprecedented, decision to hear no oral arguments at all, either behind closed doors or in public. The court also denied the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's efforts to intervene in the case. Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson dissented vigorously. [3]

"The court's failure to provide further justification for its highly unusual decision to cancel oral argument is, in my view, alarming." “The decision "may, unfortunately, signify the court's intention to dispose of the John Doe cases as a whole in a similarly swift and secretive manner. I cannot join the court in concealing this important litigation from public view."

State prosecutors asked Justice Prosser and Justice Gableman to recuse, but they refused to do so. The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law submitted an amicus brief on behalf of legal ethicists urging conflicted Wisconsin Supreme Court justices to do the right thing: “The U.S. Constitution requires judges to step aside from cases when there is a serious risk that campaign spending will impact their ability to faithfully apply the law to the facts before them.” [3]

But the state's recusal rules were literally written by WMC and passed by the right-wing majority in 2010.

Early life and education

Abrahamson was born and raised in New York City, where she attended Hunter College High School.[4] She earned an A.B. magna cum laude from New York University in 1953, a J.D. with high distinction (first in class) from Indiana University Law School in 1956, and an S.J.D. in American legal history from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1962. She was Articles and Book Review Editor of Indiana Law Journal during her tenure at Indiana University Law School.

She was Assistant Director of the Legislative Drafting Research Fund at Columbia University School of Law from 1958 to 1960.

Prior to her appointment to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, she practiced law as a partner of the LaFollette, Sinykin, Anderson & Abrahamson firm in Madison, Wisconsin for 14 years, and was a professor of law and political science at the University of Wisconsin Law School. She has also been a lecturer at Marquette University Law School.

More about her life and education can be learned from this video by the Indiana University Alumni Association.


Her husband of more than 60 years, renowned geneticist Seymour Abrahamson Professor Emeritus of Zoology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, passed away in July 23, 2016. She has a son Daniel; daughter-in-law, Tsan and grandson, Moses Jonah.[5]


Abrahamson has authored more than 450 majority opinions and participated in more than 3500 written decisions of the court. She has been involved in deciding more than 10,000 petitions for review, bypasses, certifications and lawyer and judicial discipline cases.

She is a member of the Council of the American Law Institute and serves on the board of directors of the Dwight D. Opperman Institute of Judicial Administration at New York University School of Law. She has been President of the Conference of Chief Justices and Chair of the Board of Directors of the National Center for State Courts and has served on the board of visitors of several law schools. She served as a member of the United States National Academies Committee on Science, Technology and Law, and was chair of the National Institute of Justice Committee on the Future of DNA Evidence.

In 1997 she was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences,[6] and in 1998 she was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society, two scholarly societies in the United States. She is a member of the Wisconsin Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2004 she was awarded the first annual Dwight Opperman Award for Judicial Excellence by the American Judicature Society. She has received the Margaret Brent Award from the American Bar Association.

She has received numerous other awards and fifteen honorary degrees from universities and colleges across the U.S. She is featured in Great (Top 100) American Judges: An Encyclopedia (2003), The Lawdragon 500 Leading Lawyers in America (2005), and The Lawdragon 500 Leading Judges in America (2006). She won re-election on April 7, 2009, defeating Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Randy Koschnick.

She is a member of the bar in Indiana (June 1956), New York (March 1961), and Wisconsin (July 1962).

Shirley Abrahamson said she will retire at the end of her term, July 31, 2019, in a statement released by her office.

Awards and distinctions

Her awards and distinctions include:

  • Doctor of Laws, Roger Williams University School of Law, Bristol, R.I. (2007) (Honorary)
  • Doctor of Laws, Lawrence University, Appleton, Wis. (1998) (Honorary)
  • Doctor of Laws, Marian College, Fond du Lac, Wis. (1998) (Honorary)
  • Doctor of Laws, DePaul University, Chicago, Ill. (1996) (Honorary)
  • Doctor of Laws, Suffolk University, Boston, Mass. (1994) (Honorary)
  • Doctor of Laws, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Ind. (1993) (Honorary)
  • Doctor of Laws, Northland College, Ashland, Wis. (1988) (Honorary)
  • Doctor of Laws, Hamline University, St. Paul, Minn. (1988) (Honorary)
  • Doctor of Laws, Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind. (1986) (Honorary)
  • Doctor of Laws, Northeastern University, Boston, Mass. (1985) (Honorary)
  • Doctor of Laws, John Marshall Law School, Chicago, Ill. (1984) (Honorary)
  • Doctor of Laws, Capital University, Columbus, Ohio (1983) (Honorary)
  • Doctor of Laws, Beloit College, Beloit, Wis. (1982) (Honorary)
  • Doctor of Laws, Ripon College, Ripon, Wis. (1981) (Honorary)
  • Doctor of Laws, Willamette University, Salem, Ore. (1978) (Honorary)
  • Member, American Philosophical Society (elected 1998)
  • Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (elected 1997)
  • Fellow, Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters (elected 1982)
  • Distinguished Alumni Service Award, Indiana University, 2013
  • John Marshall Award, American Bar Association, 2010
  • Harry L. Carrico Award for Judicial Innovation, National Center for State Courts, 2009
  • Wisconsin Counties Association Friend of County Government Award, 2007
  • Dwight D. Opperman Award for Judicial Excellence, American Judicature Society, 2004
  • Honored, Albany Law Review, 2004
  • 1999 Wisconsin Newsmaker of the Year Award, 2000
  • Lex et Justitia Award, Marquette University, 2000
  • Tempo International Leadership Award, 2000
  • Herbert Harley Award, American Judicature Society, 1999
  • Sam Stellman Justice for Women Award, Milwaukee Women’s Center, 1999
  • Fellowship Award, Wisconsin News Photographers Association, 1998
  • Rose Award, St. Rose Residence, Waukesha, Wisconsin, 1998
  • Marygold Melli Achievement Award, Legal Association for Women, Madison, 1996
  • Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award, American Bar Association, August 1995
  • Distinguished Alumni Award, University of Wisconsin-Madison, May 1994
  • Wisconsin Outstanding Communicator Award, Wisconsin Communication Association, 1992
  • Judicial Scholar in Residence, Southern Illinois University Law School, Carbondale, Illinois, February 1991
  • Torch of Learning Award, American Friends of the Hebrew University, 1990
  • Headliner, Women in Communications, Inc., 1987
  • Thomas Jefferson Award, Texas Tech University, Texas Association of Broadcasters, Texas Press Association, 1987
  • Member, Academy of Law Alumni Fellows, Indiana University School of Law-Bloomington, 1985
  • Writer’s Cup, Women in Communications, Inc. (Madison chapter), 1984
  • Freedom of Information Award, Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi, Milwaukee chapter, 1982
  • YWCA, Madison, Woman of Distinction, 1977
  • City of Madison, Certificate of Recognition, 1977
  • Wisconsin State Journal, Woman of Distinction, 1976
  • Madison Press Club, Newsmaker of 1976

Other community and professional activities

Her community and professional activities include:

  • Member, American Bar Association Task Force on International Trade in Legal Services, 2014-
  • Member, Advisory Committee, National Institute of Corrections Evidence-Based Decision Making Project, 2008-
  • Member, National Board of Academic Advisors, William H. Rehnquist Center on the Constitutional Structures of Government, 2007-
  • Member, Judicial Advisory Board, American Society of International Law, 2006-
  • Member, Judges Advisory Council, Physicians & Lawyers for National Drug Policy, 2004-
  • Member, ABA Standing Committee on Professional Discipline, 2002-
  • Conference of Chief Justices Liaison to the American Bar Association’s Center for Professional Responsibility, 2000-
  • Member, Board of Directors, Institute of Judicial Administration, Inc., New York University School of Law, 1998-
  • Member, Viterbo University National Advisory Council for “Vision 2005: A Renaissance for Living and Learning in the 21st Century,” 1997-
  • Member, Board of Directors, U.S. Association of Constitutional Law, 1997-
  • Member, Board of Editors, State Constitutional Commentary, Albany Law School, 1996-
  • Member, Council of the American Law Institute, 1985-2011, Member Emeritus, 2012- ; Executive Committee, 2001-12 (member of ALI since 1977)
  • Adviser, Restatement of the Law, Second, Property-Donative Transfers, American Law Institute, 1991-
  • Member, Victims Committee, Corrections and Sentencing Committee, Criminal Justice Section, American Bar Association, 1986-
  • Member, The University of Wisconsin Foundation, 1980-
  • Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, 1977-


According to Justice Abrahamson's curriculum vitae as of January 2015, her publications include:

  • Making the Criminal Justice System “Visible,” WISCONSIN PEOPLE & IDEAS, Winter 2012, at 12 (with Theresa Owens).
  • Counties and Courts: Effective Justice Strategies, WISCONSIN COUNTIES, Jan. 2011, at 19 (with Theresa Owens & Michelle Cyrulik).
  • Eckstein Hall Groundbreaking, 91 MARQUETTE LAW REVIEW 1237 (2008) (transcript of remarks).
  • Access to Justice: The Wisconsin Way, THE JUDGES’ JOURNAL, Fall 2008, at 36.
  • In Praise of Margaret A. Berger, 16 JOURNAL OF LAW & POLICY 1 (2008).
  • Reglas de Interpretación Aplicables a Decisiones Sobre Casos de Seguros, in COLOQUIO SOBRE JUSTICIA Y SEGUROS: PONENCIAS (Nov. 2006) (Spanish translation of Rules of Interpretation in Deciding Insurance Cases, paper presented at International Judicial Academy colloquium, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nov. 2006).
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg Distinguished Lecture on Women and the Law: A Conversation with Four Chief Justices, 62 THE RECORD OF THE ASSOCIATION OF THE BAR OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK 255 (2007) (panel discussion).
  • In Memoriam: Thomas E. Fairchild, My Hero and Friend, 2007 WIS. LAW REVIEW 1.
  • The Legacy of Hans Linde in the Statutory and Administrative Age, 43 WILLAMETTE LAW REVIEW 173 (2007) (with Michael E. Ahrens).
  • The Old Order Changes, THE JOURNAL OF APPELLATE PRACTICE & PROCESS, Spring 2006, at 77.
  • A Conversation About Judicial Independence and Impartiality, 89 JUDICATURE 9 (2006) (panel discussion).
  • Land-Use Law in the Courts: One Judge’s Observations, in PLANNING REFORM IN THE NEW CENTURY 251 (Daniel R. Mandelker ed., 2005).
  • Foreword, Genevieve G. McBride ed., WOMEN’S WISCONSIN (2005).
  • Article, Planning Reform in the New Century (American Planning Ass’n 2005).
  • Book Review, The Pennsylvania Constitution: A Treatise on Rights and Liberties, 68 ALBANY LAW REVIEW 403 (2005).
  • Judicial Independence as a Campaign Platform, Bench Bar of Minnesota, Nov. 2004, at 28; Georgia Bar Journal, Dec. 2004, at 32; Wisconsin Lawyer, Feb. 2005, at 16; Washington Bar News, Mar. 2005, at 32; Ohio Lawyer, May/June 2005; at 16; Michigan Bar Journal, Oct. 2005, at 40.
  • Foreword, Jay E. Grenig & Nathan Fishbach eds., WEST’S WISCONSIN PRACTICE: METHODS OF PRACTICE (2004).
  • Hallows Lecture, MARQUETTE LAW, Summer 2004, at 38.
  • State Constitutional Law, New Judicial Federalism, and the Rehnquist Court, 51 CLEVELAND STATE LAW REVIEW 339 (2004).
  • The State of the State Courts, 87 JUDICATURE 241 (2004). Remarks and Addresses at the 80th Annual Meeting of the American Law Institute (Luncheon Address), (May 14, 2003).
  • An Uncommon Portion of Fortitude, WISCONSIN ACADEMY REVIEW (Fall 2003).
  • Thorny Issues and Slippery Slopes: Perspectives on Judicial Independence, 64 OHIO STATE LAW JOURNAL 3 (2003).
  • Howard Eisenberg—My Colleague and Friend, 86 MARQUETTE LAW REVIEW 304 (2002).
  • Brennan Lecture: The Ballot and the Bench, 76 N.Y.U. LAW REVIEW 973 (2001).
  • The Appeal of Therapeutic Jurisprudence, 24 SEATTLE UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW 223 (2000).
  • Building a More Perfect Union: Wisconsin’s Contribution to Constitutional Jurisprudence, 1998 WISCONSIN LAW REVIEW 677 (co-author with Elizabeth Hartman); edited version, WI Historical Society 2001.
  • State Constitutions’ Role—A Symposium (panel discussion), 1 DELAWARE LAW REVIEW 193 (1998).
  • All the World’s a Courtroom: Judging in the New Millennium, 26 HOFSTRA LAW REVIEW 273 (1997) (co-author with Michael J. Fischer).
  • Foreword, State Bar of Wisconsin, OPPORTUNITIES IN LAW (1997).
  • The Burger Court and Federalism. Chapter in THE BURGER COURT: COUNTER REVOLUTION OR CONFIRMATION? (Bernard Schwartz ed., 1998) (co-author with Thomas M. Hilbink).
  • Introduction: Report of the Commission on the Delivery of Legal Services, 80 MARQUETTE LAW REVIEW 699 (1997).
  • Foreword, Jack Stark, THE WISCONSIN STATE CONSTITUTION (1997).
  • Roundtable, Supreme Courts as Sources of Legal Change, 72 NOTRE DAME LAW REVIEW 1193 (1997).
  • Remarks before the American Bar Association Commission on Separation of Powers and Judicial Independence, Washington, D.C., December 13, 1996, 12 ST. JOHN’S JOURNAL OF LEGAL COMMENTARY 69 (1996).
  • Viewpoint: A True Partnership for Justice, 80 JUDICATURE 6 (1996).
  • Commentary on Jeffrey M. Shaman’s The Impartial Judge: Detachment or Passion? 45 DEPAUL LAW REVIEW 633 (1996).
  • Evaluating the Performance of Judges Standing for Retention (edited panel discussion), 79 JUDICATURE 190 (1996).
  • Refreshing Institutional Memories: Wisconsin and the American Law Institute, 1995 WISCONSIN LAW REVIEW 1.
  • Words and Sentences: Penalty Enhancement for Hate Crimes, 16 UNIVERSITY OF ARKANSAS-LITTLE ROCK LAW JOURNAL 515 (1994) (co-author with Daniel N. Abrahamson and Susan Craighead).
  • Toward a Courtroom of One’s Own: An Appellate Court Judge Looks at Gender Bias, 61 UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI LAW REVIEW 1209 (1993).
  • The Justice Who Never Graduates: Law Schools and the Judicial Endeavor, 68 INDIANA LAW JOURNAL 621 (1993).
  • Judging in the Quiet of the Storm, 24 ST. MARY’S LAW JOURNAL 965 (1993).
  • Judges on Judging: A Bibliography, 24 ST. MARY’S LAW JOURNAL 995 (1993) (co-author with Susan M. Fieber and Gabrielle Lessard).
  • Procedural Justice, COMMEMORATING 40 YEARS OF RESEARCH 65 (American Bar Foundation ed., 1993).
  • “William J. Brennan, Jr.,” “Michigan v. Long,” “Rule of Reason,” “State Constitutions and Individual Rights,” “Understanding Test,” Essays in OXFORD COMPANION TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES (1992) (co-author with Charles G. Curtis, Jr.) (also in 2d ed. 2005).
  • Divided We Stand: State Constitutions in a More Perfect Union, 18 HASTINGS CONSTITUTIONAL LAW QUARTERLY 723 (1991).
  • Shall We Dance? Steps for Legislators and Judges in Statutory Interpretation, 75 MINNESOTA LAW REVIEW 1045 (1991) (co-author with Robert L. Hughes).
  • The Consumer and the Courts. 74 JUDICATURE 93 (1990) (reprinted in Proceedings of the Hawaii Judicial Foresight Congress, January 1991).
  • Foreword. Shaman, Lubet & Alfini, JUDICIAL CONDUCT AND ETHICS (1990).
  • The Living Constitution: A View from the Bench. Chapter in THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION: ITS BIRTH, GROWTH, AND INFLUENCE IN ASIA (1988) (reprinted in Japanese in 22 SEINAN LAW REVIEW July 1989, translation by Makiyo Hori).
  • The State and Federal Courts of the United States as Guardians of Individual Rights, Chapter in LAW, JUSTICE AND THE JUDICIARY: TRANSNATIONAL TRENDS (1988).
  • New Federalism: State Constitutions and State Courts. Chapter in A WORKABLE GOVERNMENT? THE CONSTITUTION AFTER 200 YEARS (1987; co-author with Diane Gutmann); reprinted in 71 JUDICATURE 88 (1987).
  • “State Constitutional Law.” Essay in ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE AMERICAN JUDICIAL SYSTEM (1987).
  • A View from the Other Side of the Bench, 69 MARQUETTE LAW REVIEW 463 (1986).
  • Justice and Juror, 20 GEORGIA LAW REVIEW 257 (1986).
  • Criminal Law and State Constitutions: The Emergence of State Constitutional Law, 63 TEXAS LAW REVIEW 1141 (1985).
  • Redefining Roles: The Victims’ Rights Movement, 1985 UTAH LAW REVIEW 517.
  • Looking Toward the 21st Century: Lawyer Testing and the Bar Admission Process in the Year 2000, 54 BAR EXAMINER 8 (February 1985).
  • Some Enlightenment on Crime, 83 MICHIGAN LAW REVIEW 1157 (1985).
  • Homegrown Justice: The State Constitutions, Ch. 11 in DEVELOPMENTS IN STATE CONSTITUTIONAL LAW: THE WILLIAMSBURG CONFERENCE (McGraw, ed.), West Pub. Co., 1985.
  • Foreword. 1 WISCONSIN WOMEN’S LAW JOURNAL 1 (1985).
  • Paradoxes of the 80’s, 60 CHICAGO-KENT LAW REVIEW 219 (1984).
  • The Woman Has Robes: Four Questions, 14 GOLDEN GATE UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW 489 (1984).
  • Judicial Review and Constitutional Limitations (summary of panel discussion), 14 GOLDEN GATE UNIVERSITY LAW REVIEW 658 (1984).
  • Demystifying the Judicial Process: How Can Judges and Journalists Really Help? (edited panel discussion), 67 JUDICATURE 448 (1984).
  • The LSAT for the 21st Century, 34 JOURNAL OF LEGAL EDUCATION (1984), reprinted as Keynote Address in LAW SCHOOL ADMISSIONS, 1984-2001: SELECTING LAWYERS FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY (Raushenbush, ed.) Law School Admission Services, 1986.
  • The Value of Humanities for Judges, in MAKING CONNECTIONS I: HUMANITIES AND THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM (McCullough, ed.), Madison, 1984.
  • Are Judges Too Lenient? 22 THE JUDGES’ JOURNAL 40 (Spring 1983); reprinted in UNDERSTANDING THE LAW (Peck and White, eds.), American Bar Association, 1983.
  • Reincarnation of State Courts, 36 SOUTHWESTERN LAW JOURNAL 951 (1982).
  • How Tootsie the Goldfish Is Teaching People to Think like a Judge, 21 THE JUDGES’ JOURNAL 12 (Spring 1982); reprinted in HANDBOOK FOR JUDGES, 1984.
  • Some Thoughts about Appellate Argument, 52 WISCONSIN BAR BULLETIN 41 (February 1979).
  • The State Bar Approaches the Age of Majority and Is Already Loaded, 47 WISCONSIN BAR BULLETIN 46 (April 1974).
  • Management Contracts in the Insurance Industry: A Wisconsin Study, In 1969 WISCONSIN LAW REVIEW 693 (co-author with Gordon Sinykin).
  • Unpublished S.J.D. thesis, Legal History of the Wisconsin Dairy Industry (1962).

Named Lectures

According to Justice Abrahamson's curriculum vitae as of January 2015, her named lectures include:

  • “An Uncommon Portion of Fortitude,” E. Harold Hallows Lecture, Marquette University School of Law, November 3, 2003
  • “The Ballot and the Bench,” William J. Brennan Jr. Lecture on State Courts and Social Justice, New York University School of Law, March 15, 2000
  • “Courtroom with a View: Building Judicial Independence with Public Participation,” John C. Paulus Lecture, Willamette University College of Law, November 22, 1999
  • “Let Fifty Flowers Bloom,” Nathaniel L. Nathanson Memorial Lecture, University of San Diego School of Law, April 15, 1998
  • “All the World’s a Courtroom: Judging in the New Millennium,” Howard Kaplan Memorial Lecture, Hofstra University School of Law, April 17, 1996; Louis Caplan Lecture, University of Pittsburgh Law School, April 2, 1997
  • “Commentary on Jeffrey M. Shaman’s The Impartial Judge: Detachment or Passion?” The Wicklander Colloquium, DePaul University College of Law, October 9, 1995
  • “Refreshing Institutional Memories: Wisconsin and the American Law Institute,” Thomas E. Fairchild Lecture, University of Wisconsin Law School, October 28, 1994
  • “Words and Sentences: Penalty Enhancement for Hate Crimes,” Ben J. Altheimer Lecture, University of Arkansas Little Rock School of Law, November 5, 1993
  • “The Process of Statutory Interpretation,” Frank H. Donahue Lecture, Suffolk University School of Law, March 4, 1993
  • “Doubly Blessed,” Frank R. Strong Law Forum Lecture, Ohio State University Law School, April 2, 1992
  • “Judging in the Quiet of the Storm,” Rosenfield Family Lecture, St. Mary’s University Law School, San Antonio, January 29, 1992
  • “Divided We Stand: State Constitutions in a More Perfect Union,” Mathew O. Tobriner Lecture, Hastings College of Law, San Francisco, November 14, 1990
  • “Shall We Dance? Steps for Legislators and Judges in Statutory Interpretation,” William B. Lockhart Lecture, University of Minnesota Law School, March 29, 1990
  • “The Court as Guardian of the Constitution,” Fourth International Appellate Judges Conference, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1987
  • “The Original Understanding,” Cleveland-Marshall Fund Lecture, Visiting Scholars Program, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland State University, February 19, 1987
  • [Keynote Address], “International Conference on the United States Constitution: Its Birth, Growth and Influence in Asia,” Hong Kong Baptist College, June 24, 1986
  • “Judges, Legislators and Lawyers: Strained Benchfellows,” Frank Rowe Kenison Lecture, Franklin Pierce Law Center, February 13, 1986
  • “Justice and Juror,” Edith House Lecture, University of Georgia Law School, March 7, 1985
  • “Criminal Provisions in State Constitutions,” Tom Sealy Lecture, University of Texas School of Law, January 24, 1985
  • “Redefining Roles,” William H. Leary Lecture, University of Utah College of Law, November 15, 1984
  • “Coming to Judgment,” Roger G. Traynor Lecture, 1984 California Judicial College, July 18, 1984
  • “Reincarnation of State Courts,” Roy R. Ray Lecture, Southern Methodist University School of Law, March 5, 1982

Past Community and Professional Activities

  • Member, Advisory Board, Science for Judges Project, Brooklyn Law School, 2003-2007
  • Member, Science, Technology, and the Law Committee, National Academy of Sciences, 2004-2007
  • President, National Conference of Chief Justices, 2004-2005; Past President, 2005-2006
  • Member, Board of Directors, National Conference of Chief Justices, 2002-2006
  • Chair, Board of Directors, National Center for State Courts, 2004-2005
  • Member Advisory Board, American Bar Association Central and East European Law Initiative (CEELI), 1994-1998, 2000- 2005 (National Conference of Chief Justices Liaison)
  • Member, Board of Trustees, American Inns of Court Foundation, 2003-2004
  • Member, American Bar Association Commission on Access to Justice/2000, 1993-2002
  • Member, Board of Visitors, Indiana University, School of Law, Bloomington, 1972-2002
  • Chair, National Institute of Justice National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence, 1997-2001
  • Member, American Bar Association Coalition for Justice, 1997-2001
  • Member, National Forensic DNA Review Panel Developing Criteria for Model External DNA Proficiency Testing, U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice, 1997-2000
  • Member, DNA Advisory Board, U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1995-2000
  • Member, University of Wisconsin Alumni Association Recognition and Awards Committee, 1994-2000
  • Member, Bioethics Committee, Health Law Section, State Bar of Wisconsin, 1991-1997
  • Past Adviser, Project on Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution, American Law Institute, 1990-2000
  • Past Member, Community Advisory Board, School of Social Welfare, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 1990-?
  • Presenter, “Human Rights: Their Protection at a National Level: Understanding the American Tapestry,” The British Council, Belfast, Northern Ireland, May 1998
  • Presenter, “The Role of the Judicial Branch in a Reformed State,” Ministry of Federal Administration and Reform of the State, Conference on Society and the Reform of the State, Sao Paulo, Brazil, March 1998
  • Member, Planning Committee, American Judicature Society Midwest Regional Conference on State-Federal Judicial Relationships, 1996-
  • Member, Court Reform Advisory Panel, International Human Rights Law Group Cambodia Project, 1995-97
  • Member, Consortium on Legal Services and the Public, American Bar Association, 1995-97
  • Member, Board of Visitors, University of Miami, School of Law, Coral Gables, Florida, 1982- 97
  • Member, Commission on Delivery of Legal Services, State Bar of Wisconsin, 1994-96
  • Member, Study Group, Program of Research on Mental Health and the Law, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, 1988-96
  • Member, Standing Committee on Public Education, American Bar Association, 1991-95
  • Lecturer, United States Agency for International Development (U.S.A.I.D.), Economic Law and Improved Procurement Systems Project, Menado, Indonesia, 1995
  • Chair, Wisconsin Rhodes Scholarship Committee, 1992-1995
  • Chair, National Advisory Committee on Court-adjudicated and Court-ordered Health Care, George Washington University Center for Health Policy Research, 1993-1995
  • Member, James E. Doyle Inn of Court, Madison, Wisconsin, 1992-1995
  • Member, Steering Committee, American Bar Association Just Solutions Conference, 1993- 94
  • Consultant, United States Agency for International Development (U.S.A.I.D.), Rule of Law Project (University of Wisconsin Office of International Studies and Programs), Moscow, Russia, 1993-94
  • Member, Visiting Committee, Northwestern University School of Law, 1989-1994.
  • Lecturer, Institute of Comparative Law in Japan, Chuo University, Summer, 1993
  • Member, Visiting Committee, University of Chicago Law School, 1988-91
  • Participant, Conference on Federalism, Moscow, December, 1991
  • Participant, George A. Katz International Conference, Women in Law, Jerusalem, December, 1991
  • Participant, Conference on Federalism, Ditchley Foundation, Ontario, Canada, 1991
  • Participant, Workshop on Judicial Restructuring, Central and East European Law Initiative (CEELI), American Bar Association, Sofia, Bulgaria, 1991
  • Faculty, State Justice Institute, National Organization for Victim Assistance, 1989-91
  • Member, Council, Fund for Research on Dispute Resolution, Ford Foundation, 1987-91
  • Moderator, Justice and Society Seminar, Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies, 1983 and 1991
  • Member, Board of Directors, American Judicature Society, 1983-90;
  • Vice President, Executive Committee, 1986-90
  • Member, Task Force, Criminal Justice Section, Standards on Prosecution Function, Defense Function, and Providing Defense Services, American Bar Association, 1988-90
  • Member, Planning Committee, Fifth International Appellate Judges Conference of 1990
  • (Chair, Program Committee)(Appointed by Chief Justice Rehnquist)
  • Member, Wisconsin Judicial Council, 1979-89
  • Member, Advisory Board, State Constitutional Law Developments Clearinghouse Project, National Association of Attorneys General, 1987-89
  • Member, Executive Committee, Judicial Administrative Division, Appellate Judges Conference, American Bar Association, 1986-89
  • Member, Council, Special Committee on Youth Education for Citizenship, American Bar Association, 1982-88
  • Member, Board of Visitors, Brigham Young University, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Provo, Utah, 1986-88
  • Member, Action Commission to Improve the Tort Liability System, American Bar Association, 1985-87
  • Member, Editorial Advisory Board, Encyclopedia of the American Judiciary, 1987- (present status of project not known)
  • Member, Board of Directors, Women Judges Fund for Justice, 1983-87 Lecturer, East China Institute of Politics and Law, Willamette University Law School Summer Program, 1986
  • Member, Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, 1983-86
  • Member, Council, Section of Legal Education & Admissions to the Bar, American Bar Association, 1976-86; Chair, Standards Review Committee, 1981-1983
  • Member, Editorial Board, THE JUDGES’ JOURNAL, 198-86
  • Member, Advisory Board, Project on Judicial Peremptory Challenge Procedures, Department of Justice (Koba Associates), 1985-86
  • Member, Board of Directors, Foundations of the American Constitutional System, Inc. (Center for the Study of the American Constitution), University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of History, 1981-1985
  • Member, Criminal Justice Section, Lawyer Competency Committee, American Bar Association, 1982-1984
  • Member, Advisory Board of National Institute of Justice, United States Department of Justice, (Presidential appointment) 1980-1981
  • Member, Advisory Committee, Civil Litigation Research Project, University of Wisconsin Disputes Processing Research Program and University of Southern California Program for Justice System Research, 1979-1982
  • Vice-Chairman, State & Local, Attorneys’ Employment & Practice Committee, Administrative Law Section, American Bar Association, 1979-1982
  • Member, National Legal Aid & Defender Association, Appellate Evaluation Design Advisory Committee, 1979-1980
  • Member, American Bar Association Commission on Undergraduate Education in Law and the Humanities, 1978-1980
  • Member, Board of Directors, American Association for the Advancement of the Humanities, 1977-1980
  • Member, Advisory Committee to Committee of Appellate Judges’ Conference to Implement the Standards of Judicial Administration (ABA), 1978
  • Director, Criminal Law Section, State Bar of Wisconsin, 1977-1978
  • Member, Dane County Bar Association, Legal Referral Committee, Legal Aid Committee, Public Speaker Committee, 1962-1976 (various)
  • Member, Board of Directors, Madison Trust for Historic Preservation, 1976
  • Member, Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance, Consumer Advisory Council, 1975-1976
  • Member, Wisconsin Supreme Court Committee to Study Attorney Grievance and Discipline Matters, 1975-1976
  • Member, Board of Directors, National Committee of Taxation with Representation, Washington, D.C., 1975-1976
  • Member, Legal Activities Policy Board, Tax Analysts and Advocates, A Public Interest Tax Law Firm, 732 Seventeenth Street N.W., Washington, D.C., 1975-1976
  • Member, Board of Directors, YMCA, Madison, 1975-1976
  • Member, Board of Directors, United Neighborhood Centers of Dane County, 31 S. Mills St., Madison, 1975-1976
  • Member, Advisory Committee, American Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Drafting, 1973-1974; Chair, 1974-1976
  • Member, State Board of Bar Commissioners (lawyer discipline commission), 1973-1974;
  • Vice-President 1975-1976 Governor Lucey’s Citizens Study Committee on Judicial Organization, Chairman, Court Structure and Jurisdiction Subcommittee; member, Executive Committee of Study Committee, 1971-72
  • Member, Board of Directors, Wisconsin Civil Liberties Union, 1967-1974
  • Chair, Capital Area Chapter of the Wisconsin Civil Liberties Union, Madison, June 1968- June 1969
  • Mayor’s Citizen Advisory Board, Madison Mayor Otto Festge, April 1968-1969;
  • Mayor William D. Dyke, June 1969-April 1971
  • Drafting Committee for City of Madison Equal Opportunities Ordinance, 1963-1964
  • Director, Madison League of Women Voters, 1962-1964


  1. Katelyn Ferral, Relentless: A hard-driving pioneer, Justice Shirley Abrahamson inspires both admiration and resentment, The Capital Times, October 26, 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Mary Bottari, WMC Spends $600,000 to Demote Chief Justice as Criminal Probe of Walker Campaign Looms,, March 31, 2015.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Marley, Patrick."Shirley Abrahamson could be forced out of Supreme Court chief justice role, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, December 22, 2014; accessed January 20, 2015.
  4. Laurie Johnson, Competition Intense Among Intellectually Gifted 6th Graders for Openings at Hunter College High School; Prominent Alumni Program for Seniors, The New York Times, March 21, 1977; accessed May 11, 2010.
  5. Obituary, Abrahamson, Seymour, Wisconsin State Journal, July 26, 2016.
  6. Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A. American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved on 20 March 2011.