Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to the Supreme Court bench Tuesday after taking an extended leave of absence following lung cancer surgery.
The 85-year-old justice has been “working from home” for the past several weeks, reviewing transcripts of oral arguments and Supreme Court briefs on key cases, and is expected to vote on all of the cases she “missed,” according to CNN.
Ginsburg has been absent from the Court since suffering a fall in November that led to cracked ribs and the discovery of several cancerous nodes on her lungs (the first cases she missed in more than 25 years on the bench). After recovering from the fall, Ginsburg underwent surgery at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York to remove at least two of the “cancerous nodes” in December. Doctors told media at the time that they believe they cut out all of Ginsburg’s cancerous tissue, and that she was effectively cancer-free.
The Justice, who is among the Court’s longest-serving members, took a seven-week leave of absence to recover, similar to absences Chief Justice William Rehnquist took when he was recovering from serious illnesses in 2004 and 2005. She officially returned to work at the Supreme Court on Friday, joining in with the other justices in their regular Friday closed-door meeting.
Fox News reports that the Justice took her seat on the bench Tuesday morning “promptly at 10am,” that she was wearing her “traditional lace collar,” and that she “went on to ask a total of five questions to counsel on both sides of a patent law dispute, including the very first question.” The case, Return Mail Inc. v. USPS, hinges on whether the Postal Service violated a patent on a system that processes returned mail items, and whether such items are patentable at all.
She returns just in time for several key cases, including a case on the “Trump administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census,” CNN reports. At the all-Court private meeting on Friday, she was part of the majority of justices that agreed to accept the case.
Ginsburg’s status was the subject of rampant speculation for weeks after her fall, particularly given that she is both the oldest member of the Court (by five years), and the most left-leaning. Liberals were obviously concerned that Ginsburg would be forced to retire during Donald Trump’s presidency, allowing the Republican president to replace the most stalwartly liberal sitting justice.
Conservatives were likewise watching Ginsburg’s recovery with deep interest, similarly concerned that the justice would not return to the bench in 2019. The Trump administration was reportedly working with judicial policy organizations to formulate a “short list” of potential Supreme Court nominees who could replace Ginsburg if she failed to recover from both her injury and her surgery.
Ginsburg, however, has no intention of retiring any time soon. Fox News reports that Ginsburg has hired clerks to serve in her office in the court’s 2019-2020 session, which begins next September. Although that may seem extreme, Ginsburg has handled worse than a lung cancer scare. She overcame cancer twice before, once in 1999 and once in 2009, and underwent surgery for a blocked artery in 2004.