Ginsburg Misses Arguments for First Time on U.S. Supreme Court

(Bloomberg) -- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg didn’t attend Monday’s arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court as she recovers from cancer surgery, marking the first time she has missed an argument session since she joined the court in 1993.

Ginsburg, 85, will participate in cases using the briefs and transcripts as she recuperates at home, Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg told reporters. The court heard two cases Monday, including a Merck & Co. appeal on patient lawsuits, and will hear three more cases later in the week.

Ginsburg, the leader of the court’s liberal wing, had surgery Dec. 21 to remove two cancerous growths from her left lung. She had twice before been treated for other types of cancer -- colon and pancreatic -- but didn’t miss an argument session during either treatment.

Ginsburg’s absence from the bench less than three weeks after surgery isn’t cause for concern, said Dan Boffa, professor of thoracic surgery and director of clinical affairs for Yale Medicine’s thoracic surgery program, who isn’t involved in Ginsburg’s treatment. Depending on precisely what was done, full recovery takes a minimum of two months, he said.

"At this time point, it’s not unexpected from where she is in her recovery," Boffa said. "There is likely some wisdom to her and her medical team being conservative in returning to work because otherwise it could ultimately slow her recovery.”

Chief Justice John Roberts said at the start of Monday’s session that Ginsburg "is unable to be present today" but will take part in the cases.

Ginsburg’s well-being is of intense interest to liberals concerned that President Donald Trump might get the chance to nominate her successor. That could further entrench the court’s conservative majority.

Ginsburg has long prided herself on not missing arguments. During earlier cancer treatments, she scheduled her chemotherapy sessions on Fridays so she could recuperate over the weekend and be ready for Monday arguments.

Doctors discovered the growths on her lung through tests performed after she fell and broke three ribs. The court said at the time of the surgery there was no evidence of additional disease and no further treatment was planned. Ginsburg was discharged from the hospital Dec. 25.

The last time a member of the Supreme Court missed any extensive time on the bench was the 2004-05 term, when Chief Justice William Rehnquist missed 44 arguments while battling thyroid cancer. Rehnquist died in September 2005 and was replaced by Roberts.

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