Over the past decade, the Wisconsin Supreme Court has issued “fractured” opinions—decisions without majority support for any one legal rationale supporting the outcome—at an alarming clip. These opinions have confounded legal analysts, attorneys, and government officials due to their lack of majority reasoning, but also due to their length and the court’s particular procedures for assigning, drafting, and labelling opinions. This has become especially problematic where the court has issued fractured opinions in areas core to the basic functioning of state and local government, leaving the state without clear precedential guidance on what the law is. Yet, virtually no one has analyzed the deeper issues animating this predicament: how fractured opinions in Wisconsin have been handled in the past, what norms surround those choices, and why this problem has become so pronounced.
This Article details the history of fractured opinions at the Wisconsin Supreme Court, from the state’s founding to the present, with a particular focus on the past twenty years and the development of the court’s current crisis. With this history in mind, along with (i) foundational principles of state judicial practice and (ii) the shortcomings of the United States Supreme Court’s approach to fractured opinions in Marks v. United States, 430 U.S. 188 (1977), a series of potential reforms are proposed. In particular, this Article suggests that the Wisconsin Supreme Court clearly define and explain what this Article
Jeffrey A. Mandell and Daniel J. Schneider,
Counting to Four: The History and Future of Wisconsin's Fractured Supreme Court,
107 Marq. L. Rev. 1
Available at: https://scholarship.law.marquette.edu/mulr/vol107/iss1/1