Shirley S. Abrahamson: An Exemplar of the American Law Institute

By Perkins, Roswell B.; Traynor, Michael | Albany Law Review, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Shirley S. Abrahamson: An Exemplar of the American Law Institute


Perkins, Roswell B., Traynor, Michael, Albany Law Review


The authors of this addition to the chorus of voices singing the praises of Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson share a mutual vantage point for viewing her achievements. (1) In view of our common observation platform--the American Law Institute--and our shared enthusiasm for the subject under examination, we have elected to write jointly.

The fact that an extraordinarily busy chief justice of a busy state supreme court, and a leader in a host of important national and international organizations, can find even more "extra-curricular" time to become a pillar of an organization in the legal field is in itself a remarkable achievement. That is precisely what Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson has accomplished in relation to the American Law Institute (hereinafter, "ALI" or "the Institute"). As a member of the Institute since 1977, and an active member of the Council of the Institute since 1985, Chief Justice Abrahamson has earned an honored position among the pantheon of ALI stalwarts.

Chief Justice Abrahamson had an early indoctrination to the kind of work undertaken by the Institute in her service from 1957 to 1960 as Assistant Director of the Legislative Drafting Research Fund at Columbia Law School. This post, assumed almost immediately after her graduation from Indiana University Law School, involved a wide range of activities, including compiling and analyzing all of the state constitutions (as well as the United States Constitution) and drafting statutes. The experience suited Shirley well for her future role with the American Law Institute.

As a distinguished practitioner for fourteen years in Madison, Wisconsin and a professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Law, Shirley Abrahamson was highly qualified for the bench when she was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1976. Her election in the very next year to membership in the ALI brought to the Institute the virtues of triple mantles of experience: practitioner, legal educator, and now a jurist. The embodiment in one individual of the three branches of legal service reflected in the ALI membership augured well for her future role in the Institute's activities.

Justice Abrahamson participated regularly in the Annual Meetings of the Institute and, generally, in the work of the Institute. This activity, combined with her widening reputation as a jurist, resulted in her election to the Council of the Institute in 1985. She has now been a highly regarded member of the Council for nineteen years.

Between 1985 and 2001, Chief Justice Abrahamson served on the Membership Committee of the Institute. This Committee serves as the screener and gatekeeper of the ALI: responsible for selecting candidates with the strongest backgrounds as practitioners, legal academics, or members of the judiciary. In this capacity, Chief Justice Abrahamson demonstrated the same wisdom, perceptiveness, and judgment that have stood her in such good stead as a jurist. It is a demanding job--one requiring the examination and comprehension of an average of some 115 resumes in the course of a year. She embraced the task and the challenge with energy and commitment, and her detailed and discerning comments were invaluable to the functioning of the Committee.

In 2001, Chief Justice Abrahamson was appointed to the Executive Committee. In this capacity her contributions to the management side of the Institute have been manifold. Her experience in managing a judicial budget and administering a court system has enabled her to add much to the Executive Committee's deliberations.

Alongside these contributions lies Chief Justice Abrahamson's outstanding service as an Adviser to several of the ALI's projects. …

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