Ginsburg illness casts spotlight on long-term court absences


WASHINGTON – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has missed a month of Supreme Court arguments as she recovers from lung cancer surgery.

The 85-year-old Ginsburg could be back on the bench when the court next meets on Tuesday, and even as she has been away, she has not missed any votes.

In some state court systems, including California, the highest court can essentially borrow a judge from a lower court to temporarily replace an absent member, said Chemerinsky, the dean of the law school at the University of California, Berkeley.

The Supreme Court has no similar arrangement. The nine justices are there for as long as they wish, and neither a retired justice nor an appellate judge can fill a void.

The 25th Amendment to the Constitution sets out what happens if a president is incapacitated, but refuses to relinquish power. In Congress, the absence of a single lawmaker is not likely to make a lasting difference, while the absence of a single justice on the nine-member court can be significant. Also, elected officials have terms of office that last six years at most, in the case of senators.