Justice Ginsburg Misses Supreme Court Arguments for the First Time

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
January 7, 2019 Updated: January 7, 2019

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be missing oral arguments for the first time as she stays home on Jan 7 to recuperate from lung cancer surgery, according to a court spokesperson.

“Justice Ginsburg is unable to be present today, but will participate in the consideration and decision of the cases on the basis of the briefs and the transcripts of oral arguments,” Chief Justice John Roberts said from the bench, according to an emailed statement. Earlier, court spokesperson Kathy Arberg told reporters that Ginsburg will be working from home.

The 85-year-old justice is the oldest of the court’s nine justices and has never missed an oral argument due to illness in more than 25 years of sitting on the bench.

The liberal justice underwent surgery to remove two malignant growths in her left lung at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center on Dec. 21. She was released from the New York hospital on Christmas Day.

The court said last month that the growths were found incidentally during tests when she was being treated for rib fractures sustained in a fall at her office on Nov. 7. They added that after surgery there was no evidence of remaining disease and no further treatment is planned.

Appointed by former President Bill Clinton in 1993, Ginsburg has shown determination to remain on the bench despite undergoing surgery for colon cancer in 1999 and pancreatic cancer in 2009, as well as other health scares. However, these did not cause her to miss any argument sessions.

Weeks after her fall in November, Ginsburg showed no signs of slowing down. She asked questions at high court arguments, spoke at a naturalization ceremony for new citizens, and was interviewed at screenings of the new movie about her, “On the Basis of Sex.”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump previously told reporters that he hoped Ginsburg would get better and serve on the supreme court for “many, many years.”

“I wish her well. She said something very inappropriate during the campaign but she apologized for it. I wouldn’t say she’s exactly on my side. But I wish her well,” Trump said.

During the 2016 presidential election, Ginsburg criticized Trump calling him a “faker,” which is an uncharacteristic move for a Supreme Court justice. She later apologized for her comment.

If Ginsburg is unable to continue serving, Trump could replace her with a conservative judge, which would shift the court further to the right. Since 2017, Trump has already appointed two conservative judges—Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh—to the highest court.

No Plans of Retiring

Ginsburg has previously rebuffed suggestions from some liberals that she should step down in the first two years of President Barack Obama’s second term when Democrats controlled the Senate and would have been likely to confirm her successor.

She has already hired clerks for the term that extends into 2020, indicating she has no plans to retire.

Ginsburg said previously that she wants to stay on the bench until at least the age of 90.

“I’m now 85,” she said in August last year, according to CNN. “My senior colleague, Justice John Paul Stevens, he stepped down when he was 90, so think I have about at least five more years.”

Ginsburg graduated from Columbia law school. Her husband, Martin Ginsburg, passed away in 2010 due to complications of metastatic cancer.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.