The judicial branch is headed by a supreme court, consisting of seven justices, elected statewide on a nonpartisan basis for terms of 10 years. Vacancies are filled by gubernatorial appointment until an open election day becomes available. The justice with the greatest seniority serves as chief justice. The supreme court, which is the final authority on state constitutional questions, hears appeals at its own discretion and has original jurisdiction in limited areas.
The state's next-highest court is the court of appeals, established by constitutional amendment in 1977. Its 16 judges
Wisconsin Presidential Vote by Political Party, 1948–2000
|YEAR||ELEC. VOTE||WISCONSIN WINNER||DEMOCRAT||REPUBLICAN||PROGRESSIVE||SOCIALIST||SOC. WORKERS||SOCIALIST LABOR|
|*Won US presidential election.|
|**Listed as Constitution Party on Wisconsin ballot.|
|POPULIST||SOC. WORKERS||NEW ALLIANCE|
|CONSTITUTION||IND. (Buchanan)||GREEN (Nader)|
are elected by district on a nonpartisan basis and serve staggered six-year terms. Vacancies are filled by the governor until a successor is elected. Judges sit in panels of three for most cases, although some cases can be heard by a single judge. Decisions by the court of appeals may be reviewed by the supreme court.
The circuit court, the trial court of general jurisdiction, also hears appeals from municipal courts. Circuit court boundaries coincide with county boundaries, except that three judicial circuits comprise two counties each; thus, there are 69 judicial circuits. Trial judges are elected by district on a nonpartisan basis for six-year terms. All justices at the circuit court level or higher must have at least five years' experience as practicing attorneys and be less than 70 years old in order to qualify for office. Vacancies are filled by the governor until a successor is elected.
Wisconsin's 200 municipal courts have jurisdiction over local matters. Municipal judges are elected for terms of two or four years, generally serve on a part-time basis, and need not be attorneys.
Wisconsin's crime rate in 2001 was 3,321.2 per 100,000 population, including a total of 12,486 violent crimes and 166,924 crimes against property in that year. Inmates in federal and state prisons totaled 20,931 in June 2001, an increase of 0.7% over the previous year. The state's incarceration rate stood at 373 per 100,000 inhabitants. Wisconsin does not have a death penalty.