Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Tuesday sought to quell concerns that her recent health-related issues could cause her to leave the court, saying in a new interview, “I am very much alive.”The comments to NPR from Ginsburg, 86 — who earlier this year took a break from the court after undergoing cancer surgery — come amid concerns from progressives that her death or retirement would give President Donald Trump an opportunity to replace a reliably liberal seat on the court with a conservative justice. Ginsburg has sought in recent days to signal that her health is stable and she has no plans to step down with the court facing major issues in its next session on immigration, gun control, gay rights and possibly abortion.
During Ginsburg’s recent surgery, doctors removed from her left lung two cancerous nodules, which were found during scans taken after the justice sustained three fractured ribs in a fall last November. In the interview with NPR, published Wednesday, Ginsburg made reference to the late Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Kentucky, who suggested in 2009 that she would soon die from the pancreatic cancer she had been diagnosed with.
“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. That senator — whose name I’ve forgotten — is now himself dead. And I am very much alive,” Ginsburg said.
In the NPR interview, Ginsburg also weighed in on an idea circulating among some Democrats to increase the number of justices on the court should a Democrat be elected president, saying she disagreed.
“Well, if anything, it would make the court appear partisan. It would be that one side saying, ‘when we’re in power, it was only to enlarge the number of judges so we will have more people who will vote the way we want them to,'” she said. “So I am not at all in favor of that solution to what I see as a temporary situation.”
Ginsburg’s health has become the subject of much attention in recent years. In November 2014, she underwent a heart procedure to have a stent placed in her right coronary artery, and in 2009, she was treated for early stages of pancreatic cancer.
In 1999, just six years after being sworn in as an associate justice, she successfully underwent surgery to treat colon cancer.
Last July, Ginsburg said she hopes to stay on the bench past 2020. On Tuesday, she revealed that she traveled with the late Justice John Paul Stevens “in the last week of his life” to Lisbon, Portugal, for a conference where the two justices attended meetings, visited museums, vineyards and castles.
“His conversation was engaging, his memory amazing,” she said on Tuesday. As they were leaving the US ambassador’s residence during their last evening in Lisbon, Ginsburg told Stevens, “My dream is to remain on the court as long as you did.”