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Ruth Bader Ginsburg Speaks Publicly For First Time Since Being Treated For Pancreatic Cancer

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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was successfully treated for a malignant tumor on her pancreas, the court said in a statement Friday, in the latest health scare for the court’s oldest member and liberal leader.

The 86-year-old justice completed a three-week course of radiation therapy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and no further treatment is needed at this point, the statement said.

“The abnormality was first detected after a routine blood test in early July,” the court statement said. “The tumor was treated definitively and there is no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body.”

The court said Ginsburg canceled her annual trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, but has otherwise continued “an active schedule.”

Ginsburg’s treatment also involved doctors inserting a stent into her bile duct, a procedure that’s done to allow bile to drain from the liver after a growth has started to crimp the tube shut. While surgery often follows to remove the cancer, the court said she doesn’t need additional treatment.

Ginsburg has beaten the odds before on pancreatic cancer, one of the most deadly and devastating tumor types. Most patients aren’t diagnosed until the malignant cells have grown beyond the pancreas and start causing symptoms, including pain and weight loss. But Ginsburg’s tumor was confined to her pancreas, as it was during her first diagnosis, giving her better survival odds.

Still, pancreatic cancer is a deadly disease. Only 34% of patients diagnosed at this early stage are alive five years later, according to the American Cancer Society.

In addition to her treatment for pancreatic cancer in 2009, Ginsburg had been treated for colon cancer in 1999, and she underwent lung surgery to remove two cancerous growths in 2018.

Political Issue

Ginsburg is an iconic figure among liberals. This latest episode illustrates how a health issue can quickly change the court’s composition. A departure by Ginsburg — or 81-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer — would clear the way for President Donald Trump to place another conservative jurist on the court. That could be a crucial change on such issues as abortion, gay rights, gun control, immigration and Obamacare.

Ginsburg has repeatedly said she plans to stay on the court as long as she can do the job “full steam.”

University of Michigan law professor Leah Litman said in an email Friday that a retirement by Ginsburg would “dramatically shift the court.”

“Without RBG, the president would now be enforcing his asylum order that prohibited people from applying for asylum/receiving asylum if they entered outside ports of entry; there would be a citizenship question on the census,“ in addition to other conservative goals, Litman said.

The court could rule on cases involving some of those issues in the middle of next year’s presidential campaign.

The makeup of the court is one of the central issues in the 2020 presidential election. Trump has been fulfilling his promise to his supporters to reshape the Supreme Court and the rest of the federal judiciary. He’s placed two justices on the nine-member high court — Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch — and solidified a conservative majority.

The 2020 Democratic presidential contenders are increasingly citing Trump’s success and the importance of the Supreme Court, a shift after decades of GOP candidates rallying their voters with promises to reshape the courts. Several of the candidates, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, have indicated a willingness to consider restructuring the Supreme Court as a remedy to its conservative tilt, including adding seats or limiting the terms of justices.

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