Annette Ziegler selected to serve as new chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court

MADISON – The state Supreme Court chose Annette Ziegler as its new chief justice Wednesday.

Ziegler, who has been on the court since 2007, is part of the court’s 4-3 conservative majority. She will take over from Chief Justice Patience Roggensack on May 1.   

Ziegler called her selection “the honor of a lifetime.”

“I will do all I can to ensure the Wisconsin Supreme Court operates fairly and efficiently with a fidelity to the law,” she said in a statement released by the court. “We will make the people of this great state proud of our professionalism and collegiality, even during our sometimes vigorous debates.”

The chief justice oversees the state’s court system and has broad powers over administrative matters.

Ziegler may run the court much as Roggensack did. She thanked Roggensack in her statement and said she would be a “tremendous resource” to her as she takes on the job. 

A native of Grand Rapids, Mich., Ziegler received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and business administration from Hope College in Holland, Mich., in 1986. She earned her law degree from Marquette University in Milwaukee in 1989.

She served in private practice and as a prosecutor until 1997, when Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson appointed her to the Washington County Circuit Court.

Ziegler in 2007 beat attorney Linda Clifford for her seat on the Supreme Court in a race that cost about $6 million — a record at the time for a court race. 

In 2008, shortly after Ziegler joined the high court, her colleagues reprimanded her for handling cases as a circuit court judge involving West Bend Savings Bank, where her husband was a director. She is the only justice in state history to be disciplined by her peers. 

She won a second 10-year term in 2017. She was unopposed, and after her election she sent her donors a letter offering to return 70% of what they gave her because she had spent only about 30% of what she raised on her campaign.

Second chief justice under new system

For 126 years, the job of chief justice automatically went to the longest-serving justice. That changed in 2015, when voters amended the state constitution to allow the justices to choose who would lead them. 

Shortly after the measure passed, conservatives selected Roggensack for the job, moving then-Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson out of the job.

The justices chose Roggensack again for two-year terms as chief justice in 2017 and 2019. 

Though stepping down as chief justice, Roggensack will remain on the court. She was last elected in 2013 and her term runs until 2023.

Contact Patrick Marley at patrick.marley@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.