Beginning of the End for Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Career?

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For the first time in her 25-year career on the Supreme Court, popular liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg missed opening arguments on Monday. Ginsburg, 85, is still recovering from cancer surgery she underwent on December 21, and reports have it that she will keep up with her duties through official transcripts of court arguments. Presently, she is recuperating from the surgery at home, having been released from Sloan Kettering on Christmas Day.

While scans performed at the hospital apparently indicated that the malignant lung tumors had not spread elsewhere throughout Ginsburg’s body, health concerns have been swirling around the elderly judge for some time. She is now a three-time cancer survivor, having undergone surgeries for various forms of the disease in 1999 and 2009, in addition to her most recent battle. Additionally, she has dealt with broken ribs from falls on at least two occasions – the latest such occasion being in November. In was, in fact, medical observation following that fall that led to the discovery of the lung tumors. Finally, she underwent heart surgery in 2014 when doctors placed a stent in her artery to open up a blocked passage.

But in some ways, all of that data is incidental to what is clearly (and understandably) a woman in decline. She falls asleep regularly on the bench (and, on occasion, during State of the Union speeches), participates in opening arguments on an ever-less-frequent basis, and is, quite frankly, 85 years old. No one is suggesting (yet) that we change the law to place limits on how long a Supreme Court Justice can extend their “lifetime” appointment, but even Ginsburg’s most loyal fans are beginning to wonder how much longer she can do the job.

For her part, Ginsburg – in both interview and actions – is signaling that she wants to stay on the bench until at least 2020. There’s hardly any reason to wonder why; in addition to apparently enjoying the intensive workload at even this late stage in the game, she wants to make sure that when she retires, there’s a Democrat in the White House ready to nominate her replacement. Savaged by some on the left for not retiring when Obama was still in office, Ginsburg knows that it would put her judicial legacy in jeopardy if she were to retire now and let President Trump fill her seat with someone a bit more, shall we say, constitutionally grounded.

“I’m now 85,” Ginsburg said last summer. “My senior colleague Justice John Paul Stevens, he stepped down when he was 90. So think I have about at least five more years.”

Despite what Chief Justice John Roberts might like us to believe, there are indeed “Trump judges” and “Obama judges,” and all that it implies. Everyone knows it, none more than RBG herself.

She may want to hang on until Democrats can get someone more favorable to her ideology in the White House, but nature doesn’t always comply with your political wishes.