Former justices

Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson

Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice: 1976–2019
Chief Justice: 1996–2015
Life: 1933–2020

Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson was appointed to the Supreme Court by Gov. Patrick Lucey in 1976. She was then the only woman to serve on the court.

She won election to the court in 1979 and re-election in 1989, 1999, and 2009. From August 1, 1996 until April 30, 2015 she served as chief justice.

Before joining the Supreme Court, Justice Abrahamson was in private practice in Madison for 14 years and was a professor at the UW Law School. She is a past president of the National Conference of Chief Justices and past chair of the board of directors of the National Center for State Courts. She also has served as chair of the National Institute of Justice's National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence. She is an emeritus member of the Council of the American Law Institute and serves on the New York University School of Law Institute of Judicial Administration. She also has served on the State Bar of Wisconsin's Commission on the Delivery of Legal Services, the American Bar Association's Coalition for Justice, and the National Academies' Science, Technology and Law panel.

Born and raised in New York City, Justice Abrahamson received her bachelor's degree from NYU in 1953, her law degree from Indiana University Law School in 1956, and a doctorate of law in American legal history in 1962 from the UW Law School. She is the recipient of 16 honorary doctor of laws degrees and the Distinguished Alumni Award of the UW-Madison and Indiana University-Bloomington. She is a fellow of the Wisconsin Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and an elected member of the American Philosophical Society. In 2004, she received the American Judicature Society's Dwight D. Opperman Award for Judicial Excellence. In 2009 the National Center for State Courts awarded her the Harry L. Carrico Award for Judicial Innovation, for serving as a national leader in safeguarding judicial independence, improving inter-branch relations, and expanding outreach to the public. In 2010 the American Bar Association awarded her the John Marshall Award in recognition of her dedication to improving the administration of justice.

Justice Abrahamson is listed in Great American Judges [Top 100]: An Encyclopedia (John R. Vile ed. 2003), in The Lawdragon 500 Leading Lawyers in America (2005), and in The Lawdragon 500 Leading Judges in America (2006).

Justice Abrahamson was widowed in 2016 and has a son, Daniel.

Back to former justices