By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had two cancerous nodules removed from her left lung on Friday in a surgical procedure in New York, the latest health issue experienced by the 85-year-old liberal jurist, a court spokeswoman said.
Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said Ginsburg, one of the court’s nine justices, underwent a procedure known as a pulmonary lobectomy on Friday at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Arberg said that according to the thoracic surgeon, Dr. Valerie Rusch, "both nodules removed during surgery were found to be malignant."
After the surgery, there was "no evidence of any remaining disease," Arberg added.
"Currently, no further treatment is planned. Justice Ginsburg is resting comfortably and is expected to remain in the hospital for a few days," Arberg said.
Ginsburg broke three ribs in a fall last month. The nodules were found as part of the tests the justice underwent after the earlier fall, Arberg said.
Ginsburg, appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1993, is the senior liberal member of the court, which has a 5-4 conservative majority.
The Supreme Court’s conservative majority was restored in October when the Senate confirmed Republican President Donald Trump’s nominee, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, after a contentious nomination process in which Kavanaugh denied a sexual assault allegation dating to the 1980s when he was a high school student.
As the oldest justice, Ginsburg is closely watched for any signs of deteriorating health.
If she were unable to continue serving, Trump could replace her with a conservative, further shifting the court to the right. A potentially dominant 6-3 conservative majority would have major consequences for issues including abortion, the death penalty, voting rights, gay rights and religious liberty.
Ginsburg has recovered from previous medical issues. She was treated in 1999 for colon cancer and again in 2009 for pancreatic cancer, but did not miss any argument sessions either time. In 2014, doctors placed a stent in her right coronary artery to improve blood flow after she reported discomfort following routine exercise. She was released from a hospital the next day.
The court is not in session until early January.
Ginsburg is considered a hero by many liberals. She has helped buttress equality rights during her time on the high court, including in sex discrimination cases.
In recent years she has become something of a cult figure, particularly on the left, known by the nickname "Notorious RBG," after the late rapper Notorious BIG.
A documentary film, "RBG," was released earlier this year. A feature film about her life, "On the Basis of Sex," is being released in theaters next week.
Ginsburg was the second woman to become a member of the Supreme Court, following Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who retired in 2006. O’Connor, 88, said in October she is suffering from dementia.
Ginsburg called Trump an egotistical "faker" when he was running for president in 2016. Trump responded by saying her "mind is shot" and she should quit the court. Ginsburg later expressed regret for her comments, saying "judges should avoid commenting on a candidate for public office."