History of the Federal Court in the Western District of Wisconsin

Congress created the Western District of Wisconsin in 1870 by dividing the state into two judicial districts. The Western District included the 44 westernmost counties in the state.

The first courthouse was located in Madison at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and the Capitol Square. The court was relocated in 1929 to a new federal courthouse at 215 Monona Avenue. The current courthouse was opened in 1985. On July 29, 1991 The House of Representatives passed Bill H.R. 948 designating the current U.S. courthouse located at 120 North Henry Street in Madison, Wisconsin as the "Robert W. Kastenmeier United States Courthouse," in honor of the congressman who represented Wisconsin's Second District from 1959-1991.

The first person to fill the single judgeship created for the Western District was James C. Hopkins, a Madison resident appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant. Following Judge Hopkins, nine more judges presided before the current Chief District Judge. Judge David Rabinovitz was appointed by President Johnson but was never confirmed by the Senate. After his appointment lapsed, President Johnson appointed James E. Doyle. Although the court's caseload would have justified a second judgeship in the mid-60's, it was not until 1979 that Congress approved a second position. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed Barbara B. Crabb to that position. In 1980, Judge Doyle assumed senior status, allowing Judge Crabb to assume the position of Chief Judge of the district and opening a vacancy for the appointment of another judge. John C. Shabaz filled that vacancy in 1981, when he was appointed to the bench by President Ronald Reagan. Judge Shabaz served as Chief Judge from 1996 until 2001. Judge Crabb again assumed the position of Chief U.S. District Judge in June of 2001. Judge Shabaz assumed senior status in January of 2009. Upon the appointment of her successor in March of 2010, Judge Crabb assumed senior status. Judge William M. Conley was appointed United States District Judge by President Barack Obama in March of 2010, and served as Chief Judge from 2010 until 2017. In May of 2014, Judge James D. Peterson was appointed as District Judge by President Barack Obama and assumed the role of Chief Judge in March of 2017.

In 1970, the position of United States Magistrate was created by Congress. The Western District was allotted one part-time Magistrate. Barbara B. Crabb filled that position and continued to serve after United States Magistrate became a full-time position in 1974. William L. Gansner succeeded her in 1980; by this time, the title had changed to "United States Magistrate Judge." He was succeeded by R. James Groh in 1984. Stephen L. Crocker was appointed in 1992. Anita M. Boor was appointed in 2024.

District Judges of the Western District of Wisconsin

Dates   Judge   Appointed By
1870 - 1877   James C. Hopkins   President Grant
1877 - 1905   Romanzo Bunn   President Hayes
1905 - 1920   Arthur L. Sanborn   President T. Roosevelt
1921 - 1932   Claude Z. Luse   President Harding
1933 - 1963   Patrick T. Stone   President F. Roosevelt
1964   David Rabinovitz   President Johnson
1965 - 1987   James E. Doyle   President Johnson
1979 -   Barbara B. Crabb   President Carter
1981 - 2012   John C. Shabaz   President Reagan
2010 -   William M. Conley   President Obama
2014 -   James D. Peterson   President Obama


Clerks of Court for the Western District of Wisconsin

Dates   Clerk
1870 - 1896   Frank N. Stewart
1896 - 1921   Major F.W. Oakley
1921 - 1924   William E. Comerford
1924 - 1947   Herbert C. Hale
1947 - 1957   Edgar M. Alstad
1957 - 1965   Lucille M. Alstad
1965 - 1971   John R. Adams
1971 - 2003   Joeseph W. Skupniewitz
2003 - 2008   Theresa M. Owens
2008 - 2022   Peter A. Oppeneer
2022 -   Joel Turner


A recommended publication concerning the history of the judiciary, "Creating the Federal Judicial System," by Russell R. Wheeler and Cynthia Harrison, is available for viewing.