Liberals fearing yet another Supreme Court vacancy for President Donald Trump to fill have some cause for relief: It doesn’t appear that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is going anywhere anytime soon.
The 86-year-old justice told CNN this week she is still “cancer-free,” six months after undergoing radiation to remove a cancerous tumor on her pancreas.
“I’m cancer-free. That’s good,” Ginsburg said in an “energized” manner, according to reporter Joan Biskupic.
Ginsburg’s age and health have been top of mind for policymakers, lawmakers and activists who wonder whether Trump will have a third opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court justice — and further cement his already well-established legacy of orienting the nation’s courts in a more conservative direction.
The progressive and iconic justice, lately the subject of several films exploring her life’s broad impact, has fought cancer four times — and won. Before her pancreatic cancer diagnosis last year, Ginsburg underwent surgery for lung cancer in December 2018. She had surgery for early-stage pancreatic cancer in 2009 and was treated for colon cancer a decade before that.
She missed a day of oral arguments in November because of what a court spokesman described as a “stomach bug.” That same month she was hospitalized over a weekend for chills and a fever and treated for a possible infection.
But it’s rare for her to miss a day on the bench, and she still makes frequent outside appearances. After her August treatment, she told a crowd at the National Book Festival in Washington that “this audience can see that I am alive.”
Ginsburg is the eldest and most senior of the court’s four remaining liberal justices. In many recent cases, these four have dissented from the five conservative-leaning justices, who now include Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
When asked how long she’ll serve, Ginsburg usually responds that she won’t retire as long as she can do the job “full steam.” Yet Democrats fear that could occur before their own party controls the White House again, as another Trump appointee probably would ensure a conservative majority on the court for decades to come.
“Ginsburg’s fans, many of who call her the ‘Notorious RBG’ and have her likeness as action figures, tattoos and on ugly Christmas sweaters, celebrated the news of her clean bill of health on social media,” The Washington Post reported.
Of course, conservatives — especially anti-abortion rights activists — would love to see Ginsburg step down.
But regardless of when Ginsburg eventually steps down, conservatives already have an upper hand on the court.
The court is scheduled in early March to consider a Louisiana law requiring doctors at abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The question is whether the law unduly burdens women’s access to abortion — but anti-abortion activists and GOP lawmakers are asking the court to do something much broader: To reconsider the 1973 Roe v. Wade and 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey rulings, two landmark abortion rights decisions.
A group of 207 lawmakers signed an amicus brief last week asking the court to “again take up the issue of whether Roe and Casey should be reconsidered and, if appropriate, overruled.” Just two Democrats — Reps. Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Daniel Lipinski of Illinois — signed on to the brief.
The brief signals the optimism conservatives feel that the court will rule with them — although Kavanaugh in particular hasn’t ruled on many abortion rights cases in the past, so it’s impossible to perfectly predict his stance.
And then there’s another big health-care case sitting at the Supreme Court’s doorstep — one that Republicans may not be so eager for it to take up.
Democratic-led states have asked it to hear a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, a case that could result in the dismantling of part or all of the law’s patient protections and coverage expansions. The Democrats defending the law don’t want that to happen — but they do recognize that a Supreme Court ruling in the middle of an election year would draw attention to the Trump administration’s position against the ACA.