Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, recovering from surgery, misses her first oral argument at Supreme Court

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, recovering from lung cancer surgery last month, on Monday missed her first oral arguments since joining the Supreme Court 25 years ago.

She is recovering at home, a court spokeswoman said.

The justices are set to hear cases on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and a court official said it was likely the 85-year-old justice would not be at the Supreme Court this week.

When the justices took their seats in the courtroom Monday, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said Ginsburg would not be present for the arguments but would participate in deciding the cases to be heard. Ginsburg will read briefs and the transcripts of the oral arguments she misses.


She underwent surgery in New York on Dec. 21 to have a lobe on her lung removed. An earlier test had detected two nodules that were found to be malignant.

Afterward, doctors said the normal recovery time for such surgery was four to six weeks. Ginsburg was discharged from the hospital after several days, and court officials say she has been working at home since then.

Twice before, Ginsburg has had surgery for cancer. She was treated for colorectal cancer in 1999 and pancreatic cancer in 2009. In both instances, she scheduled the surgery during one of the court’s extended breaks and did not miss a day of oral arguments. She also scheduled the most recent surgery during the holiday recess.

It is not uncommon for justices to participate in cases after missing an oral argument. Former Chief Justice William Rehnquist was battling cancer in the 2004-05 term and missed weeks of arguments, but he participated in deciding most of the cases during that time.

Ginsburg’s health has become the focus of intense interest because of her age and her role as the court’s senior liberal justice. If she stepped down because of her health, President Trump and Senate Republicans would be in position to add another conservative jurist to a court that already has a conservative majority.

Medical experts have noted that Ginsburg’s lung cancer was removed at an early stage and her chances for a full recovery were good.

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