Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg treated for malignant tumor on pancreas

Sean Rossman, Savannah Behrmann and Kristine Phillips, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON -- Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has just completed treatment for a malignant tumor that was discovered on her pancreas.

The Supreme Court announced Friday she "completed a three-week course" of radiation therapy that started on August 5. The "abnormality," was first detected during a routine blood test in early July. A biopsy on July 31 found it to be a malignant tumor.

The court also stated that Ginsburg "tolerated treatment well."

"The tumor was treated definitively and there is no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body," the Supreme Court's public information office said in the statement. "Justice Ginsburg will continue to have periodic blood tests and scans."

Ginsburg, 86, has had several bouts with cancer. Ginsburg endured a lengthy battle with colorectal cancer in 1999. A decade later, she had pancreatic cancer, often deadly but in her case detected early. She endured the death of her husband of 56 years, Martin Ginsburg, in 2010, and a heart procedure that required a stent in 2014.

More: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returns to Supreme Court bench two months after surgery for lung cancer

Most recently, she underwent surgery in late 2018 after cancerous nodules were found in her lungs. They were discovered after she fell and fractured three ribs.

She has since returned to the Supreme Court, but missed arguments for the first time in more than 25 years in January as she recovered from surgery at the end of 2018.

Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, here at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., opposes court-packing proposals.

During Ginsburg's recent weeks of treatment in New York, she kept up a busy schedule, according to the court. "She canceled her annual summer visit to Santa Fe, but has otherwise maintained an active schedule," the court said in its statement Friday.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court justice met "Saturday Night Live" comedian Kate McKinnon, who has famously portrayed Ginsburg on the comedy sketch show for the past several years.

More: RBG meets comedic doppelganger as Bader Ginsburg introduced to Kate McKinnon after off-Broadway show

The two separately attended an off-Broadway performance of "Fiddler on the Roof" and were introduced after the show, according to social media posts.

.

When the subject of her health came up in an interview last month with NPR, though Ginsburg didn't mention former Sen. Jim Bunning by name, she had a lot to say about some remarks he made in 2009, weeks after Ginsburg had undergone surgery for an earlier bout with pancreatic cancer.

"There was a senator, I think it was after the pancreatic cancer, who announced with great glee that I was going to be dead within six months," Ginsburg told NPR's Nina Totenberg. "That senator, whose name I’ve forgotten, is now himself dead, and I am very much alive."

More: RBG rips former senator who questioned her health: I'm still alive, and he isn't

The health of the liberal justice has become a concern of both conservatives and progressives as the possible end of her decades-long tenure on the court would pave the way for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and President Donald Trump to shift the ideological balance of the high court more to the right for decades to come. 

Since taking office in 2017, Trump has appointed two conservatives to the nine-member court, creating a majority of five Republican appointees. A vacancy, regardless of whose seat it is, would give the president the chance to nominate another young conservative judge to the bench, further tipping the balance of the Supreme Court for several more decades. 

Amanda Hollis-Brusky, a politics professor at Pomona College in California who has written about the Supreme Court and the conservative legal movement, said the conversation needs to be about more than the health and longevity of an 86-year-old justice. 

More: Liberal groups seek to make Supreme Court an issue in 2020 presidential race, and conservatives exult

"The fact that she is the oldest and now we know has undergone more cancer treatment makes the story about her. The story is a lot bigger than her," Hollis-Brusky said. "This is about the balance of power of the court for decades to come. Any sign that there's a potential vacancy in the seat is going to stir up battle lines."

Joseph Palmore, a Washington, D.C. attorney who clerked for Ginsburg, described the justice as "the toughest, most resilient person I've ever known."

"Justice Ginsburg has obviously been through this before," Palmore said in an e-mail. "Every time, she has powered through and remained extraordinarily committed to her work on the court."

Ginsburg delivered one of the eulogies for her former colleague, John Paul Stevens, the second oldest and third longest-serving justice in the Supreme Court's history. In it, she recalled telling Stevens on a recent trip to Portugal, "My dream is to remain on the court as long as you did."

"His immediate response: 'Stay longer!'" Ginsburg recounted.  

More: Supreme Court Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at 86, dreams of serving many more years

Ginsburg was the second woman ever appointed to the Supreme Court, after Sandra Day O'Connor, who served from 1981 to 2006. 

Contributing: Richard Wolf; Lucas Aulbach, Louisville Courier Journal

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Tumor treated on Supreme Court justice's pancreas