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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Has Cancer Again, Says She Will Remain On The Court

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg revealed Friday that she began undergoing chemotherapy in May for a new cancer diagnosis.
Dimitrios Kambouris
Getty Images for DVF
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg revealed Friday that she began undergoing chemotherapy in May for a new cancer diagnosis.

Updated at 3:34 p.m. ET

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says that her cancer has returned and that chemotherapy is yielding positive results. In a statement, she said that her most recent scan, on July 7, "indicated significant reduction of the liver lesions and no new disease."

In the statement, Ginsburg said she began a course of chemotherapy on May 19 after a periodic scan in February, followed by a biopsy, revealed lesions on her liver. She said her recent hospitalizations to remove gallstones and to treat an infection were unrelated to the recurrence of the cancer.

"Immunotherapy first essayed proved unsuccessful. The chemotherapy course, however, is yielding positive results," the statement said.

The statement added: "I am tolerating chemotherapy well and am encouraged by the success of my current treatment. I will continue bi-weekly chemotherapy to keep my cancer at bay, and am able to maintain an active daily routine. Throughout, I have kept up with opinion writing and all other Court work. I have often said I would remain a member of the Court as long as I can do the job full steam. I remain fully able to do that."

Those who have seen Ginsburg in recent months say that she is cheerful and fully engaged and that while she seemed to lose some weight during the initial phase of the lockdown, she has been gaining back those pounds of late.

That said, this is her fifth bout with cancer in 21 years and the third bout in the last 19 months. Her surgeries and treatments over the years for colon and pancreatic cancer have likely contributed to some of the gut problems, unrelated to her cancer, that pop up from time to time.

Earlier this week, Ginsburg was admitted to the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for treatment of a possible infection and was released a day later.

In May, she underwent nonsurgical treatment for a benign gallbladder condition, and participated, from the hospital in the Supreme Court's oral arguments. She participated in the court's full term, which ended last week.

Last year, she completed three weeks of radiation treatment after a cancerous tumor was discovered on her pancreas. It was the fourth time in 20 years that she had been treated for cancer, and the second time in a year. In December 2018, she underwent an operation to treat lung cancer.

Ginsburg has been perhaps the most transparent of the justices when it comes to her health.

In June, Chief Justice John Roberts fell while walking near his home in suburban Washington and cut his head so badly that the wound required stitches and an overnight stay in the hospital for observation. He did not disclose the incident at the time, and it would have remained unknown, but for a tip to The Washington Post, which was subsequently confirmed by the court. Going back to 2006, Justice Anthony Kennedy had a heart stent put in, which was not disclosed until many months later when it had to be replaced.

Ginsburg, in contrast, has repeatedly disclosed medical conditions and treatments. Her disclosure on Friday comes, however, some two months after she began her chemotherapy treatments, and her statement seems to suggest that she decided to make the disclosure now, as she put it, because she is "satisfied that my treatment course is now clear."

She could, of course, have continued her treatments without disclosing them, but that would not have been in keeping with a very deliberate policy she seems to have adopted beginning with her first cancer in 1999. And it would have risked a disclosure not of her choosing.

Certainly, for those who care, the disclosure is a warning that there could well be a vacancy on the court within the next year, meaning that either Donald Trump or Joe Biden would be filling that seat.

For Trump, it would mean an opportunity to name a third justice to the Supreme Court, and most importantly, he would be replacing a liberal with a conservative, thus skewing the already conservative court further to the right. Should Biden make the appointment, it likely would not change the ideological composition of the court, leaving it with a five-justice conservative majority.

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Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.