Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she was in good health during a public appearance in New York City Saturday, just days before she had surgery for lung cancer at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
NPR’s Nina Totenberg interviewed Ginsburg at the Museum of the City of New York on Dec. 15, where she asked the 85-year-old justice about her health.
“It’s fine, thank you,” Ginsburg replied. She went on to say that she had resumed her vaunted fitness regiment with her personal trainer after fracturing three ribs in a November fall at her chambers in the Supreme Court.
Less than a week later, doctors in New York removed two cancerous nodules from her left lung. The procedure is called a pulmonary lobectomy. Medical personnel at the George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., made the diagnosis in November while her fractured ribs were treated.
It is not clear when the surgery was scheduled, and it is not unusual for the justices to defer announcements relating to surgeries or milder forms of medical treatment until after they have taken place.
There is no standardized process for Supreme Court justices to make disclosures as to their health, and the justices themselves are sometimes imprecise about their ailments or overall well-being. For example, former Chief Justice William Rehnquist underwent a tracheotomy in 2004 relating to his thyroid cancer. That procedure is not typical of thyroid cancer treatment, however, prompting speculation as to possible complications and his general prognosis.
The House Judiciary Committee adopted legislation that would require the justices to submit for regular medical exams on Sept. 13. Among other things, the bill requires the attending physician to inform the chief judge or justice of a particular court if they make a diagnosis that would inhibit a member of the court from fulfilling their duties.
The high court says Friday’s surgery was successful. Pre-surgery scans “indicated no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body,” according to Ginsburg’s surgeon, Dr. Valerie Rusch.
“Currently, no further treatment is planned,” Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said in a statement Friday. “Justice Ginsburg is resting comfortably and is expected to remain in the hospital for a few days.”
The Supreme Court is currently adjourned for the holidays. The justices are not scheduled to meet again until Jan. 4, when they will discuss pending petitions. Oral arguments will resume on Jan. 7.
Ginsburg has never missed a day of official business. She even continued her work as a justice while receiving chemo and radiation therapy for colon cancer in 1999. However, she was absent for Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s ceremonial investiture on Nov. 8 due to her fractured ribs.
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