MADISON, Wis. – Shirley Abrahamson, the longest-serving Wisconsin Supreme Court justice in state history and the first woman to serve on the high court, has died. She was 87.
Abrahamson, who also served as chief justice for a record 19 years, died Saturday after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, her son Dan Abrahamson told The Associated Press on Sunday.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said in a statement that Abrahamson had a “larger-than-life impact” on the state's legal profession and her legacy is defined “not just by being a first, but her life’s work of ensuring she would not be the last, paving and lighting the way for the many women and others who would come after her.”
Long recognized as a top legal scholar nationally and a leader among state judges, Abrahamson wrote more than 450 majority opinions and participated in more than 3,500 written decisions during her more than four decades on Wisconsin’s highest court. She retired in 2019 and moved to California to be closer with her family.
In 1993, then-President Bill Clinton considered putting her on the U.S. Supreme Court, and she was later profiled in the book, “Great American Judges: An Encyclopedia.”
She told the Wisconsin State Journal in 2006 that she enjoyed being on the court.
“It has a mix of sitting, reading and writing and thinking, which I enjoy doing. And it’s quiet. On the other hand, all of the problems I work on are real problems of real people, and it matters to them, and it matters to the state of Wisconsin. So that gives an edge to it, and a stress,” she said.
The New York City native, with the accent to prove it, graduated first in her class from Indiana University Law School in 1956, three years after her marriage to Seymour Abrahamson. The couple moved to Madison and her husband, a world-renowned geneticist, joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison faculty in 1961. He died in 2016.