Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she planned to keep her seat on the Supreme Court at least until after the 2020 elections.
But can she actually keep her promise? Given her current fragility, it’s very possible that Ginsburg might be forced to quit sooner than she intends.
While the media insists that she’s doing just fine and will be back on the bench shortly, others aren’t so sure.
“Five more years”
“I’m now 85,” she said in July. “My senior colleague, Justice John Paul Stevens, he stepped down when he was 90, so think I have about at least five more years.”
But since that prediction, Ginsburg’s health has suffered. She fell in November, breaking three ribs. And after the fall, doctors discovered cancerous growths in her lung, which were surgically removed in late December.
Ginsburg has not returned to the court since her surgery, though she has reportedly been working from home. On Monday, she reportedly attended a concert held in her honor, her first public appearance in over a month. She did not, however, attend Trump’s State of the Union address.
Shifting the balance
The liberal justice has made no secret about her disapproval of Republican President Donald Trump. If she were to retire during his presidency, he would be able to nominate a more conservative-leaning jurist as her replacement — a scenario she surely intends to avoid.
Trump has already successfully nominated two constitutional originalists to the Supreme Court. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, and the thought of his being able to nominate a third conservative worries many on the left.
Gorsuch was the first justice to be nominated by Trump, and while there was some opposition from Democrats, the left largely held their fire. Gorsuch was replacing the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, and his appointment did not change the ideological balance of the court.
But Democrats went all out against Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination — though they were unsuccessful in the end. As a conservative replacement for retiring swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, Kavanaugh represented a substantial shift toward the right.
Ideological fight ahead
Sadly, the Kavanaugh confirmation spectacle will likely seem tame compared to what will happen if Trump gets the opportunity to replace one of the decidedly liberal justices. 85-year-old Ginsburg is the most likely candidate to retire, followed closely by 80-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer.
Liberals are hoping that Ginsburg will remain healthy enough to stay on the court until around the time of the 2020 election, when — they hope — a Democrat will defeat Trump. In that case, Ginsburg — and even Breyer — could announce their retirements confident in the fact that they would be replaced by liberal justices.