Just over a month after 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg injured several ribs in a fall in her office, she underwent surgery to have a pair of cancerous growths removed from her lungs on Friday.
These health scares, in light of her advanced age, have prompted increased speculation over Ginsburg’s overall health, leaving many asking if she could be removed from the bench if she were unwilling — or unable — to retire for health reasons. In short, the answer is no.
Supreme Court justices enjoy a lifetime appointment to the high court for a very specific purpose: to be above the daily partisan grind in the legislative and executive branches and protected from the political whims of presidents or members of Congress who may want to oust them for political reasons.
That level of independence from the rest of the federal government allows justices to rule on cases as they see fit without having to worry about Congress or a president threatening to remove them if they don’t like said rulings.
Imagine the incredible and perpetual turmoil and turnover the Supreme Court would operate under if justices had to consider the personal political ramifications of ruling a particular way on a case, or could be removed from the bench on a political whim by an ideologically-opposed member of Congress or the president.
Impeachment only avenue for removal
But while it is abundantly clear that justices can’t be removed from the bench for political purposes, questions remain as to whether an exception to the lifetime appointment rule could be made for health reasons, such as if a justice became incapacitated and was no longer capable of serving.
Unfortunately, there is no provision in law or the Constitution to allow for the health-related removal of a sitting Supreme Court justice.
Indeed, it would appear that the only avenue available for removing a sitting Supreme Court justice is through the impeachment process for infamous “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
But a president can be removed from office for health-related reasons via the 25th Amendment, and perhaps it is time for a national discussion on amending that amendment to include the Supreme Court justices.
Still, until such a provision is passed by Congress and ratified by the requisite number of states, Supreme Court justices will remain on the bench — regardless of their health status — until they decide to retire or breathe their last breath on the high court.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an admittedly tough lady who has now faced down cancer three times and dealt with a handful of other health issues over the years, but she nevertheless continues to persist and serve her country on the high court, where she reportedly intends to remain until President Trump is out of office.
Though some may desire an avenue of recourse to remove a justice for health reasons to allow for the appointment of a healthy jurist to take their place, that simply isn’t an option at this point in time, and it would take a monumental and virtually impossible effort by Congress and the states to change that anytime soon.