Shirley Abrahamson, the first woman to serve on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, has died at the age of 87, the Associated Press reported Sunday.
The justice’s son Dan confirmed that his mother died on Saturday after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
Abrahamson was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court by former Gov. Patrick Lucey (D) in 1976. “It has a mix of sitting, reading and writing and thinking, which I enjoy doing. And it’s quiet. On the other hand, all of the problems I work on are real problems of real people, and it matters to them, and it matters to the state of Wisconsin. So that gives an edge to it, and a stress,” she told the Wisconsin State Journal in 2006, according to the AP.
In 1979, she won her first re-election to a 10-year term, and went on to win three others, the AP reported. In 2013, during her 36th year on the court, Abrahamson broke the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s record for its longest-serving justice.
The justice also set the record for the longest stint as the court’s chief justice with 19 years. She likely would have served longer, but in 2015, a Republican-led, voter-approved constitutional amendment changed the rules allowing the members of the state Supreme Court to choose the chief justice. Previously, it would simply go to the most senior member.
Abrahamson continued serving on the court until 2019 when she retired. Not long thereafter, she revealed that she had pancreatic cancer.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Abrahamson participated in some 3,500 written decisions and wrote over 450 majority opinions during her time on the court.
What kind of judge?
According to the AP, Abrahamson insisted she was an independent jurist, but that’s not how others saw her. Throughout her lengthy career, her opinions were often praised by Democrats and condemned by Republicans.
In fact, it was the court’s Republican majority that took advantage of the rule change to vote Abrahamson out of the chief justice position in 2015.
Abrahamson was known for her support of civil rights, going back to the late 1960s and early ’70s when she led her local American Civil Liberties Union. In 1963, she helped rewrite Madison’s equal opportunities law.
Former President Bill Clinton even considered nominating Abrahamson to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993, the AP noted.
All in all, Abrahamson was a monumental figure, and there’s no doubt her death marks the end of an era in Wisconsin.