Shirley Schlanger Abrahamson


Shirley Schlanger Abrahamson



Born (1933) and raised in New York City, Shirley Abrahamson received her bachelor's degree from NYU in 1953, her law degree from the Indiana University School of Law in 1956, and a doctorate of law in American legal history in 1962 from the University of Wisconsin Law School. Prior to being appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, by Governor Patrick Lucey in 1976, Abrahamson practiced law in Madison for 14 years and was a professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School. At the time of her appointment, she was the only woman serving on the court. She won election to the court in 1979 and re-election in 1989, 1999, and 2009. From August 1, 1996 until April 30, 2015 she served as chief justice. Abrahamson retired in 2019.

Abrahamson served as both president of the National Conference of Chief Justices and chair of the board of directors of the National Center for State Courts. She also has served as chair of the National Institute of Justice's National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence. She was a member of the Council of the American Law Institute, the New York University School of Law Institute of Judicial Administration. She also served on the State Bar of Wisconsin's Commission on the Delivery of Legal Services, the American Bar Association's Coalition for Justice, and the National Academies' Science, Technology and Law panel.

Abrahamson was recipient of 15 honorary doctor of laws degrees, as well as the Distinguished Alumni Award from UW-Madison. She was a fellow of the Wisconsin Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was an elected member of the American Philosophical Society. In 2004, she received the American Judicature Society's Dwight D. Opperman Award for Judicial Excellence. In 2009 the National Center for State Courts awarded her the Harry L. Carrico Award for Judicial Innovation, for serving as a national leader in safeguarding judicial independence, improving inter-branch relations, and expanding outreach to the public.

In 1985 Abrahamson was inducted into the Indiana University School of Law’s Academy of Law Alumni Fellows and in 1986 was awarded an honorary LLD degree. In 2013 Indiana University presented her its Distinguished Alumni Service Award.

Shirley S. Abrahamson died, at the age of 87, in December of 2020.


Wisconsin Supreme Court, State Supreme Court Justices, Maurer Alumni, Academy of Law Alumni Fellows


Courts | Judges | Law | Legal Biography | Legal Profession


Download Obituary, Associated Press, 12/20/20 (1.0 MB)

Download Obituary, New York Times, 1/15/21 (1.4 MB)


For additional information on Justice Abrahamson, see the files above and the sites below:

Also see:

Abrahamson, Shirley S. "The Justice Who Never Graduates: Law School and the Judicial Endeavor." 68 Indiana Law Journal 621 (1993)

Shirley Schlanger Abrahamson