Ruth Bader Ginsburg has donned a black robe for 32 years, including 18 on the Supreme Court, and she has no plans to hang it up anytime soon.
Senate halls have been buzzing for about a year about the prospect of the Supreme Court justice retiring during this election year, a move that would clear the way for President Barack Obama to appoint another liberal justice before the court determines the fate of his 2010 health care law.
Ginsburg, the eldest member of the court at 78 and a consistent voice of its liberal wing, has told friends in Washington and back home in Midwood, Brooklyn, where she was raised, that she isn’t ready to go.
“Justice Ginsburg has not expressed any interest in retiring,” a close Ginsburg friend from the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., told The Daily Caller. The jurist was raised and attended high school in Midwood.
Democrats fear if a Republican wins the 2012 race and she were to retire in 2013 or later, her successor could be a conservative — giving the high court a long-term rightward tilt.
During the last term, she served for the first time with two other women, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. She also has the power to delegate dissenting opinions when she is on the losing end of rulings split on ideological lines.
Observers of the nation’s highest court point to the justice’s recent activity as a clear sign that she has no intention of retiring.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled by a 7–2 margin that an Alabama man on death row who missed an important court-filing deadline due to a mailroom mix up at a New York law firm must be given a second chance at clemency. Justice Ginsburg wrote for the majority, saying “no just system” would allow the missed deadline to be held against the inmate, Cory R. Maples.
In just the past week, the court has published six decisions written by Ginsburg.
Democratic strategist Karl Frisch told TheDC that while Supreme Court justices are political individuals, they pride themselves in defying political expectations.
“You would expect that [Supreme Court justices] would line up their retirements with what works for the political calendar but it never works out that way,” Frisch said.
Appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993, Ginsburg’s health has been a constant concern for Supreme Court observers. She survived colon cancer in 1999 and then underwent pancreatic cancer surgery ten years later. Doctors found a tumor in her pancreas at an early stage.
According to the Hirschberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, only four percent of patients with the disease live five years after their diagnoses. But the five-year survival rate “can rise as high as 20% to 25%,” the foundation adds, “if the tumor is removed completely and when cancer has not spread to lymph nodes.”
Ginsburg’s 2009 cancer surgery produced three strokes of good luck. First, the one-centimeter tumor doctors identified in a CT scan turned out to be benign. And second, surgeons stumbled upon another, much smaller lesion — the cancerous one — far earlier than they would have been able to with ordinary noninvasive tools.
The third miracle was that her lymph nodes showed no sign of cancer. Doctors also said it had not spread to other parts of her body.
It would be a major disruption, both for the court and the Senate, if Ginsburg were to step down mid-term, according to Laura K. Ray, a Widener University law professor.
“As a rule that doesn’t happen unless a health emergency,” Ray said. “This is a woman who has had two varieties of cancer. She lost her husband and she’s come back on the bench. Her work on the bench is tremendously important to her.”
If Ginsburg’s were to retire in the next few months, President Obama would likely pick someone aligned with her political ideology, Frisch added.
A spokesperson at the Democratic National Committee did not respond to The Daily Caller’s request for comment.