With courage and passion: the inspired leadership of chief justice Shirley S. Abrahamson.

AuthorBradley, Ann Walsh

To write of the many accomplishments of Shirley S. Abrahamson as a legal scholar, jurist, and chief justice in a short essay is to look at a masterpiece through a microscope. Each squint reveals a splash of the depth and substance of this remarkable woman, but only by stepping back can we appreciate the profound impact of her work. With brilliance, unwavering dedication, and a caring heart, Shirley Abrahamson accomplishes the impossible every day. In covering her own words in sweat, she inspires hard work and dedication in people who labor in every facet of the justice system.

The leadership that she demonstrates as chief justice is colored by the same courage, optimism, concern for the individual, and deep sense of fairness that characterize her opinions. Her legal scholarship has brought her international acclaim, leadership positions in national organizations, fourteen honorary doctor of law degrees, and lecture requests from around the world. She is a prolific legal writer and has contributed to numerous law reviews and journals. My task here, however, is not to list her substantial contribution to American jurisprudence. Rather, I want to share my personal sense of Shirley Abrahamson as a leader with the grace, modesty, and generosity to inspire others not just to follow, but to join her in leading.

Shirley Abrahamson's vision for a justice system that is open, understandable, and accessible is rooted in her earliest experiences. The daughter of shopkeepers--immigrants from Poland who learned to speak English on the streets of New York--Chief Justice Abrahamson developed a profound appreciation for the value of education and for the power of the law as a tool for change. She graduated first in her class from Indiana University Law School. Traditionally, the top graduate could expect a bevy of offers from law firms, but Shirley Abrahamson was no typical graduate. She was a woman and she was Jewish. Job opportunities were, therefore, few and far between. Her first employer found her suited for indexing state constitutions.

After moving to Madison, Wisconsin with her husband, Shirley Abrahamson found a law firm that was willing to hire her. She quickly distinguished herself as a successful lawyer in private practice. While with the law firm, she also taught at the University of Wisconsin Law School and was one of the first two women to join the faculty. In 1976, she became the first woman appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. She has...

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