Shirley Abrahamson was known for her sharp wit and quotable quotes. Browse some of them below, or use the filters to find a quote on a specific topic.
May 9, 2008
“I hope you seek a world where our constitutional rights to freedom of speech, press, and litigation are protected. I hope you are committed to a world free from discrimination, a world free from poverty, and a world filled with justice and peace. Learning to live in a diverse society free from bias and prejudice might be the biggest challenge we face in this century.”
May 7, 2008
"Nobody knows what activist judge means when they say it, and for the listener it doesn’t have any meaning. When you say somebody’s an activist judge, what you’re really saying is I don’t like that particular opinion. I think the people who use it think it’s a slur and it will ultimately take on their connotation."
May 1, 1997
“Most of us began law school or entered the practice of law picturing ourselves as Atticus Finch, the fictional lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird, whose representation of an unpopular criminal defendant required him to take a fresh look at legal services and at society. We saw ourselves, like Atticus, advocating for or in some way assisting people regardless of race, religion, financial status, unpopularity of the cause, or financial consequences to ourselves. . . . Let us reawaken the spirit of Atticus Finch in each of us. Let each of us take a fresh look at the justice system. And let all of us recommit ourselves to the ideal of making access to justice a reality for all.”
April 11, 1974
“My son came home from Franklin School one day with a paper about organizing baseball teams, which said ‘let’s get the guys out, sorry, no girls permitted.’ When he asked if he could join I said no and he asked ‘you mean because of the girls?’ And I said, ‘yes, how would you like it if it said no boys with brown hair and brown eyes permitted? That’s discrimination.’ He said it was OK with him—he’d play soccer where both boys and girls are allowed to play.”
April 11, 1974
When opponents to the Equal Rights Amendment asked Shirley Abrahamson “How do you feel about men’s restrooms?” she replied: “How many people have homes that have segregated facilities? You have large parties, strangers come together, they all manage fine. No one goes home because they refuse to use your mixed ‘john.’"
October 10, 1996
"I would strongly urge the women in the audience to consider a career in the judiciary. Judging seems to be tailor-made for women. Judging is physically light work—generally no heavy lifting is required. Judges are often heard to complain that they are overworked and underpaid, characteristics typically ascribed to ‘women’s work.’ And should a judge decide to bear a child, her robe is a perfect maternity dress."
May 13, 1988
"In 1961, the Constitution allowed wiretapping, school prayer, and illegally-seized evidence to be admitted in court. Women could be thrown in jail for having abortions and could be excused from jury duty because of what was seen as their pivotal place in the American home. None of the Constitution’s wording has changed since then, but we’ve seen a big change in interpretation. It’s inevitable, and not necessarily a bad thing."
November 18, 1974
"I always tell guys who feel threatened economically that they shouldn’t let on how they feel. I tell them if they’re weak and frightened, women will sense that weakness and pounce on them. I tell them that they should welcome these successful women and show that they are strong enough and self-confident enough to handle it."
June 2, 1977
"Equality of men and women means eliminating sex stereotypes and looking at the individual. Just as it is unacceptable for the law to force all women into the mold of homemaker, it is similarly unacceptable to treat all women upon divorce as per se self-sufficient bread winners in an open, full employment job market."
September 4, 1976
"I may be the first woman justice, but I’m clearly not the last."
October 28, 1985
"Historically, women have been outsiders to the political system. Now that we have the vote and the promise of equal opportunity, we must make a special effort to help other outsiders—the old, the poor, the differently-abled, members of racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural minorities. We should try to ensure that in our judicial system, and in all facets of our government, everyone is treated with respect and dignity."
September 28, 1995
“[I]f you want to raise the hackles of judges, you call the judiciary an ‘agency.’ You just don’t do that. We are—and this becomes very important—a separate branch of government, a co-equal branch of government, maybe the smallest of the branches of government. Maybe that’s why when you start the ‘agency’ bit the judges take out their black robes, start to don’em, yell 'separation of powers,' 'inherent authority,' and 'we’ll get you.' That’s because we feel boxed in by this concept of agency.”
May 13, 1988
"The public needs lawyers who love the law and are committed to the idea that the profession serves the needs of the public to whom we are responsible. We have to work for a world free of crime, free of drugs, free of poverty, and free of bigotry—a world of justice and peace. One person can make a difference. And when the roll is called I hope that person will be you. I urge that you work toward leaving a better world to your children than the world we pass on to you."
April 11, 1974
Referring to a Wisconsin Supreme Court decision holding that girls cannot be newspaper carriers: “I have a 10-year-old son and if it is ‘too dangerous' for your big 10-year-old daughter, why should I or the state allow my 10-year-old boy to do it. I’m just as concerned about my little boy being molested as you are about your daughter. We have to look at the girl and the boy individually and determine which one can handle themselves. Maybe it’s too dangerous for children under 32!”
September 28, 1995
"The concept that legislators and judges don’t understand each other and don’t communicate is really quite an old one. Since judges are birds of justice who fly backwards, always looking at precedent, I figured I’d have to do something judge-like and quote Benjamin Cardozo, who in the 1920s said the legislature and the courts move in 'proud and silent isolation.'"
April 24, 1997
"The third branch is the least understood branch of government. If we are able to maintain the respect of people for the work of the courts, we must ensure that our partnership with the public is a strong one. We can strengthen that partnership by acknowledging that the litigants and the bar are consumers of our services, and by looking at our roles from the perspective of those who appear before us and that of the entire community we serve."
October 9, 1985
“Each of us must work to give the majestic phrases of the constitution—due process of law, equal protection of the law—real meaning to every person. We are each called upon to perform our part in a constitutional democratic system. Each of us in our own way has a firm obligation to do whatever can be done to achieve the ultimate objective of a just and humane society.”
March 17, 1983
“There is a general consensus that there is too much litigation, yet many people do not have access to the judicial system, because they find it costly, cumbersome and slow. What is surprising is that we don’t have even more cases. Most grievances aren’t taken to court . . . There can never be ‘too much litigation’ when an entire class of people, the poor, or even the middle class, cannot afford to take their grievances to court.”
March 4, 1985
“The jury has changed through the years and will continue to change. But the determination of guilt or innocence of men is too important to be trusted to trained men. For those very important issues, the jury uses 12 strangers off the street, just as the founder of Christianity did many years ago.”
September 25, 1996