Last Wednesday, November 26, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was admitted to the hospital and underwent a procedure to implant a stent in her right coronary artery to alleviate a blockage. In the past she has also been treated for pancreatic and colon cancer, and her age (she is currently 81 years old) has prompted prominent law professors, Randall Kennedy of Harvard and Erwin Chemerinsky of UC Irvin Law School to urge her to retire. Their reasoning: that should the Senate flip to Republican control in the 2014 election, as it has, Ginsburg would risk her successor’s selection by a conservative official. Ginsburg was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and after more than 20 years of service, faces considerable pressure from liberals to step down under Obama’s Presidency, allowing him to select a successor of like minded ideology.
Justice Ginsburg has long been regarded as the leader of the liberal wing of the courts. She is the oldest of the four liberal justices and has penned many influential opinions, including a recent dissent in the case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. Her judicial mind is well regarded by all, and she is even friends with prominent fellow justice and conservative Antonin Scalia. However, there is fear among liberals that Justice Ginsburg could die on the job and be replaced by someone with different ideological views, similar to liberal Justice Thurgood Marshall’s replacement by conservative Clarence Thomas in 1991. Over the next two years, court-watchers will not only follow Justice Ginsburg’s opinions but her health.
Ginsburg has resolved to stay on the job until she is physically incapable of performing her duty. However, her legacy could potentially be challenged if a Republican President is elected in 2016. Despite this, I believe that Ginsburg’s decision to retire should be a private decision; she has done a tremendous job on the bench and there is no reason to pressure her into premature retirement, as Justice John Paul Stevens did not retire until the age of 90 years. In addition, I find the political polarization surrounding the Supreme Court to be quite disturbing. Justice Ginsburg has never missed any time on the bench, and I think that she should be trusted to make her own decisions. Despite her competency in judgment she will undoubtedly remain in the public spotlight for the duration of her service.