Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the court announced in a statement. A small tumor was detected early and removed in a surgery today. Even so, the survival rate is poor – around 20% for patients in whom the tumor is detected early and completely restricted to the pancreas.
While we wish Ginsberg well in her battle for recovery, the implications for the court and the nation’s future can not be avoided. Former chief counsel for the ACLU, Ginsberg is widely regarded as the court’s most liberal voice. At 75, she is also one of the court’s older members. There now seems little doubt that her seat will be President Barack Obama‘s first to fill on the Supreme Court.
While Obama will certainly name another liberal justice, he would be hard-pressed to find any more so than Ginsberg. In this sense, this appointment limits his ability to ideologically shape the court to his image. The only change will be that the new justice will be younger, and presumably serve on the court for years to come.
While the nation should wish Ginsberg and her family well at the time of this tragedy, the fact that it is her – as opposed to any of her colleagues – is a noteworthy check on Obama’s ability to reshape the nation’s highest judicial body.