Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg missed oral arguments on Monday. It was Justice Ginsburg’s first absence since she began serving on the highest court in 1993. Ginsburg was unable to hear arguments before the court because she is still recovering from lung cancer surgery, which she underwent last month. Before hearing the opening case of the day, Chief Justice John Roberts addressed Ginsburg’s absence by simply saying she was “unable to be present.” Kathy Arberg, a spokesperson for the Supreme Court, said that Justice Ginsburg would be working from home while she recuperates, examining argument transcripts and reviewing case briefs. Despite her absence, Justice Ginsburg met with the other eight justices of the Supreme Court on January 4 to vote on what cases they would hear in their current session.
At 85 years old, Justice Ruth Ginsburg is the oldest member of the Supreme Court. Ginsburg has made news in recent months owing to various health scares. Earlier in November, Justice Ginsburg fractured three ribs in a fall. During treatment for her broken ribs, doctors found two cancerous nodules on her lungs. The nodules were removed in a surgery on December 21 and Ginsburg was released from the hospital on December 25. A spokesperson for Ginsburg said there was no evidence of any remaining nodules or cancer following the procedure. Monday’s oral arguments were the first Supreme Court hearing since Ginsburg’s surgery. It remains to be seen if Ginsburg will need to miss any more sessions. Ginsburg’s most recent cancer scare is her third battle with the disease. Prior to her most recent diagnosis, Ginsburg battled colon cancer in 1999 and pancreatic cancer in 2009. Justice Ginsburg also had to have a stent implanted in her right coronary artery in 2014 to improve blood flow. During all of these incidents, Ginsburg never had to miss an oral argument.
Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton and is considered the head liberal on the court. The court currently has a 5-4 conservative majority and Democrats worry that the court could shift further to the right in the event of Ginsburg’s retirement. Those close to Ginsburg say she will probably stay on the Supreme Court until 2020. Liberal voters view Justice Ginsburg as a cultural icon, sometimes referring to her as “Notorious RBG.” Ginsburg was the subject of a recent CNN documentary as well as a Hollywood film entitled On the Basis of Sex.