Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg still remains absent from her bench on the Supreme Court with no indication as to when she will return. Speculation now is whether or not the 85-year-old cancer survivor plans to step down should her health compromise her ability to fully perform her duties.
As noted by Fox News, Ginsburg has provided hints in the past that she could be edging closer to retirement in her given circumstance. For one, she never promised to keep going regardless, only if she is able to perform at “full steam.”
“As long as I can do the job full steam, and that, at my age, is not predictable,” Ginsburg told The New York Times in 2013.
Her statement to the Times was prior to the GOP taking control of the Senate during the Obama years. Had she retired then, the Democrats would have easily secured for themselves another reliable liberal on the court.
Ginsburg later echoed her “full steam” declaration to NPR a full three years later when she said that she would “retire when it’s time. And when is it time? When I can’t do the job full steam.”
Of course, a great deal has changed since then: A Republican-controlled Senate and White House. However, she repeated her threshold for exiting at Adas Israel Congregation just last year.
“As long as I can do the job full steam, I will be here,” she said. “I said I will do this job as long as I can do it full steam.”
Whether or not Ginsburg’s recent cancer scare will prevent her from going full steam remains to be seen.
As 2018 closed out, Ginsburg underwent surgery for lung cancer following a nasty fall in which she fractured three ribs. A statement released by the Supreme Court at the time said she underwent “pulmonary lobectomy” in New York City that resulted in the removal of two malignant nodules. No other complications with Ginsburg have been detected.
“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg underwent a pulmonary lobectomy today at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City,” read the statement. “Two nodules in the lower lobe of her left lung were discovered incidentally during tests performed at George Washington University Hospital to diagnose and treat rib fractures sustained in a fall on November 7 … both nodules removed during surgery were found to be malignant on initial pathology evaluation.”
Even if Justice Ginsburg cannot continue the job full steam, the Washington Examiner reports she can stay on the Supreme Court for as long as she wishes, to the point of working from home and writing opinions without so much as hearing a single oral argument.
“As a member of the Supreme Court with life tenure, Ginsburg can remain on the bench for as long as she desires, no matter how sick she becomes,” reports the outlet. “There is no written rule prohibiting justices who are missing from the bench from casting their votes.”
Since precedent is the big SCOTUS buzzword these days, the Washington Examiner noted Ginsburg working from home is not exactly without precedent.
Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and John Paul Stevens both retired at 90, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist served on the Supreme Court until his death in September 2005, nearly one year after he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
Rehnquist, like Ginsburg, also worked from his home while recovering in October 2004 from a tracheotomy in connection with his cancer diagnosis.
At the time, Stevens, who presided over the court during Rehnquist’s absence, said Rehnquist ‘reserves the right’ to vote in cases before the court, including those in which he was not present for oral arguments.
In the meantime, people should pray for Ginsburg’s health and wish her well.