Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a four-time cancer survivor, misses oral argument with stomach bug – USA TODAY

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a four-time cancer survivor, misses oral argument with stomach bug – USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg missed oral argument Wednesday because of  a stomach illness, less than three months after completing treatment for her fourth bout with cancer.

Ginsburg, 86, was “indisposed,” Chief Justice John Roberts announced from the bench. But he said she would participate in deciding the two cases argued Wednesday by reading briefs and the transcript of the oral argument.

The leader of the court’s liberal wing, Ginsburg has become a cultural icon during her third decade on the high court. She has kept up a rigorous travel schedule around oral arguments, most recently appearing at Georgetown University Law Center alongside the president who nominated her in 1993, Bill Clinton, and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton.

More: After cancer, Supreme Court’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg hits the road to prove her vitality – and longevity

Ginsburg missed two weeks of oral arguments in January following surgery for lung cancer, marking the first time in her 26-year Supreme Court career she had been absent. Then in August, she underwent three weeks of radiation for pancreatic cancer.

The lone statement issued by the court after her latest bout was upbeat. “The tumor was treated definitively and there is no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body,” it said. “Justice Ginsburg will continue to have periodic blood tests and scans. No further treatment is needed at this time.”

The justice’s first encounters with cancer came in 1999, when she had colon cancer, and in 2009, when she had her first bout with pancreatic cancer, a particularly deadly form. 

“As cancer survivors know, that dread disease is a challenge, and it helps to know that people are rooting for you,” Ginsburg said in September during an appearance at the famed 92nd Street Y in New York City. She vowed to stay on the job “as long as I’m healthy and mentally agile.”

Even if Democrats win the White House next fall, Ginsburg would have to remain on the court at least until January 2021 to avoid giving President Donald Trump and a Republican-controlled Senate the opportunity to replace her. Such a scenario could give conservatives a 6-3 hold on the high court, solidifying their majority – perhaps for decades to come.

Ironically, one of the lawyers arguing before the court Wednesday was University of California, Berkeley Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, who wrote in 2014 that Ginsburg should step down so that President Barack Obama could nominate her successor. The justice did not follow that advice – but she did make an appearance at Berkeley Law last month.


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