In Memoriam: Shirley Abrahamson

In Memoriam: Shirley Abrahamson

Shirley S. Abrahamson, longest-serving member of Wisconsin Supreme Court, died on Saturday, December 19. She was 87. 

Justice Abrahamson was elected to the ALI in 1977 and to Council in 1985. During her time on Council, she served on both the Membership and Executive Committees, as well as an Adviser on Restatement of the Law Third, Property (Wills and Other Donative Transfers) and Principles of the Law, Family Dissolution.  

She was the first woman to serve on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, appointed by Governor Patrick Lucey in 1976. She served as the chief justice from August 1996 to April 2015, and retired in 2019. 

Justice Abrahamson is remembered for her commitment to making the judiciary more transparent and accessible. She supported and helped launch the “Court with Class” program, which brings high school students into the court’s hearing room for arguments, as well as the “Justice on Wheels” program, which sends the justices to other parts of the state to hear arguments. 

In addition to her service to ALI and the Wisconsin Supreme Court, she sat on the board of directors of the Dwight D. Opperman Institute of Judicial Administration at New York University School of Law; was president of the Conference of Chief Justices; chaired the board of directors of the National Center for State Courts; and was a member of the United States National Academies Committee on Science, Technology, and Law. Justice Abrahamson was also elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the American Philosophical Society. She received the ABA’s Margaret Brent Award in 1995 and was awarded the Opperman Award for Judicial Excellence by the American Judicature Society in 2004. 

Justice Abrahamson is remembered for her lifelong dedication to preserving the rule of law, her generosity, and for her legacy in paving and lighting the way for the many women and others who follow her. 

The American Law Institute extends our sincerest condolences to her son and daughter-in-law, Daniel and Tsan Abrahamson. 

Read her Chicago Tribune obit here.  

UPDATE: On January 5, 2021, per the executive order signed by Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, the Flag of the United States and the Flag of the State of Wisconsin were flown at half-staff as a mark of respect for former Chief Justice Abrahamson.