Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s announcement today that she is being treated for early-stage pancreatic cancer came as a terrible blow to her friends, colleagues and former clerks, who have witnessed the 75-year-old diminutive intellectual powerhouse battle back from colon cancer just 10 years ago.
It’s unclear what today’s announcement means beyond just that -- either for Justice Ginsburg’s future or for the future of the Court. The Court said she will be in the hospital recovering from surgery for 7 to 10 days. She could well return to the bench, when the Court goes back in session Feb. 23.
If not, she still can participate in the cases -- even if she misses the oral arguments. The late Chief Justice William Rehnquist participated in some cases when he was off the bench, after he underwent treatment for thyroid cancer in 2004 and 2005. Rehnquist returned to the bench after nearly four months off to lead the Court, serving out the remainder of the 2004-2005 term before his death that summer.
Ginsburg, a liberal, is one of several justices how have been rumored to be leading candidates for retirement in an Obama Administration. She sought to dispel those rumors in a recent speech, saying she hoped to serve at least another decade or more.