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Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson remembered as pioneer for women in law

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shirley abrahamson
Former Wisconsin Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson

MADISON (WKOW) -- Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson is being remembered as a pioneer in her field, paving the way for women in law.

Abrahamson passed away this weekend, two years after she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

She was the first woman to hold a place on the court, appointed by Gov. Patrick Lucey in 1976. She was also the first woman to become chief justice in 1996. She retired from the bench in 2019, after serving for 43 years.

"She was first among many and she always encouraged other women to follow in her path," said former Justice Janine Geske.

Geske was just the second woman to serve on the state Supreme Court, starting in 1993, and says she was always impressed with Abrahamson's work.

"She always was involved with the court and caring about making the courts better and when she became chief she really could get hands-on, in terms of working on issues that faced the poor and the voiceless. She was very active in that," Geske said.

Abrahamson led the court to become nationally known for innovation and excellence and will have a lasting impact on the court system in Wisconsin, Geske said.

Her legacy in law is fighting for state constitutions and volunteering her time to help people across Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul released a statement Sunday night about Justice Abrahamson, saying she was a "truly remarkable person and towering figure in American law."

“You didn’t have to know Chief Justice Abrahamson to know that she was brilliant, worked famously long hours in service to the people of Wisconsin, and was dedicated to fairness and justice. You just had to read her opinions," Kaul said. “Through those hundreds and hundreds of opinions, Chief Justice Abrahamson shaped our understanding of the law for the better. Those opinions will have an impact for decades to come, as courts look to them for guidance and wisdom in resolving legal issues that have yet to arise."

Gov. Tony Evers said Justice Abrahamson's legacy will be defined by her life's work, ensuring she would not be the last woman to make a difference.

"She has had a larger-than-life impact on the legal profession in Wisconsin and our state’s and country’s jurisprudence. She was a pillar of our state and the court for generations. We have missed her greatly on the court, and we will miss her greatly in this life. We are thinking of Chief Justice Abrahamson’s family and friends, and we join the people of Wisconsin in mourning the loss of one of our state’s most extraordinary public servants and honoring her legacy," his statement reads.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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