Ginsburg’s Cancer Surgery Sparks Speculation About Future Justices
The news that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg underwent surgery yesterday for early-stage pancreatic cancer has already led to much speculation about who President Obama is likely to pick for the next court vacancy. Although Ginsburg, a tiny but tough 75-year-old who never missed a day on the court — even during treatment for her last bout of cancer (she had colon cancer in 1999) — has said nothing about stepping down anytime soon, court-watchers do love to speculate. Justice John Paul Stevens, 88, has long been expected to step down at some point during this administration, but judging from his appearance at the president’s inauguration, he seems to be doing very well these days.
In any event, here are some of the likely candidates expected to be considered for the next vacant Supreme Court post.
If Ginsburg is the first to step down, then observers expect it’s likely to be a woman, given that Ginsburg has been the only woman on the court since Sandra Day O’Connor — the first-ever female justice, appointed in 1981 — retired from the high court in 2006.
Some women likely to be considered include: Sonia Sotomayor, a Bronx-born woman of Puerto Rican descent, who is currently a federal appeals court judge in New York, nominated by the first President Bush; Diane P. Wood, a federal appeals court judge in Chicago, nominated by President Clinton; and Elena Kagan, the former dean at Harvard Law School recently nominated to be solicitor general.
If Justice Stevens steps down first, some prominent men would likely be in the running, including Deval Patrick, the governor of Massachusetts, a former Justice Department official under Clinton and a friend of Obama; Harold Hongju Koh, dean of Yale Law School and probably the most politically liberal of Obama’s potential picks; and Merrick B. Garland, a federal appeals court judge in Washington appointed by President Clinton and, like Obama, a graduate of Harvard Law School. Cass Sunstein, the Harvard law professor, friend and advisor to President Obama who’s been named administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, is also considered a possible choice.
My own hope is that Justice Ginsburg has a speedy and full recovery and can continue to serve on the bench for years to come. A widely respected, careful and non-ideological judge with a tremendous intellect, she strikes me as an ideal judicial model. There is no prognosis yet available for her recovery. She has said that she’d like to remain a justice well into her 80′s.
Many of the justices, of course, have had serious health problems on the court, including many cancers. Here’s an interesting video interview with veteran Supreme Court reporter Tony Mauro about Justice Ginsburg’s condition and the history of the court’s grappling with illnesses on the court.