Daniel R. Suhr


The Wisconsin Constitution is the state’s fundamental law and is often the final authority over important issues of public moment. When interpreting a provision in the state constitution, the Wisconsin Supreme Court relies on three primary sources: the plain meaning of the text, the legislative and ratification history surrounding the clause, and construction by the legislature. The second and third sources that the Court uses to resolve constitutional cases are significantly flawed for both practical and jurisprudential reasons.

By contrast, the Wisconsin Supreme Court focuses first and foremost on the text when interpreting statutes. The Court only turns to history when it must to resolve an obstinate ambiguity. This approach avoids the flaws associated with the Court’s current method of constitutional interpretation while also advancing positive values for the rule of law. Therefore, the author recommends that in its next constitutional case the Court should set aside its current methodology for constitutional interpretation and instead announce its adoption of its statutory method for constitutional cases as well.