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Bill changing way chief justice selected gets first vote in state Senate

MADISON, WI (WTAQ) - A change in the way Wisconsin's chief justice is picked will get its first vote in the state Senate Tuesday. 

Republicans are supporting a constitutional amendment to require the seven Supreme Court justices to elect a chief every two years, thus ending the 124-year-old practice of having the justice with the longest seniority serve as the chief. 

The seven-member court now has a conservative majority of four members. 

Critics of the amendment say the GOP is trying to remove liberal Shirley Abrahamson from a post she's held since 1996. 

One of the amendment's sponsors, Assembly Republican Rob Hutton of Brookfield, denies such motivation. He said it would reduce political differences on the state's highest court -- and it would encourage the justices to collaborate more. 

The chief justice does not have overriding veto power in deciding which cases the Supreme Court considers and when. The chief is the administrative head of the state court system, and is normally the public face of the Supreme Court. 

Action by both houses was expected this week on the proposed amendment. 

It would have to pass again in the next session, and then the voters would have to ratify it in a statewide referendum. The earliest it could take effect is in 2015.