Health of US Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg fuels anxiety, preparations

Washington (AFP) –


Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a darling of the US left and an increasingly frail octogenarian, is taking center stage ahead of this year's presidential election, with the Supreme Court's balance hanging on her seemingly faltering health.

Ginsburg's liver cancer -- and recent repeat trips to the hospital due to bile duct infection -- has Washington's political class on tenterhooks, with her every medical procedure causing major hand-wringing, not to mention a variety of contingency plans.

Ginsburg was hospitalized yet again on Wednesday to "revise a bile duct stent," as her doctors assured the public that such things were "common occurrences."

Should the 87-year-old, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy, leave the bench, President Donald Trump would move quickly to name a successor, with the Republican-led Senate likely to confirm the nomination in equally record speed as the November 3 election draws near.

This would cement a conservative majority on the court, which has final say on a number of the touchiest subjects dividing America -- from abortion to fire arms, civil rights to the death penalty.

Although five of the court's nine justices are conservative, it is not uncommon for at least one of them to vote with the progressive bloc, resulting in several recent decisions favorable to liberals.

Just a few examples: The court recently struck down a restrictive abortion law, and extended rights to gay and transgender workers.

Such decisions, Trump tweeted in June, meant one thing to the president: "we need NEW JUSTICES of the Supreme Court."

He has promised to publish a list by September 1 of conservative candidates from which he would chose if elected to a second term -- but also, no doubt, should Ginsburg leave her post in the meantime.

Hugely popular with Democrats, Ginsburg has become a feminist hero and an unintentional social media icon fondly known as "The Notorious RBG," a riff on slain rapper The Notorious B.I.G.

Despite assurances from the court that the justice is "resting comfortably and expects to be released from the hospital by the end of the week," the left's anxiety is palpable.

Prayers and warm wishes have flooded social media, with fans crossing their fingers that Ginsburg will be able to hold on at least until November, when Democrats hope to elect former vice president Joe Biden to the White House.

- 'Wrongly decided' -

The right is pushing for Trump's list to include candidates even more conservative than those he suggested during his 2016 campaign.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley told The Washington Post that he would "vote only for those Supreme Court nominees who have explicitly acknowledged that Roe v. Wade is wrongly decided," referring to the landmark 1973 Supreme Court case legalizing the right to an abortion.

A series of rare leaks from the Supreme Court to CNN revealed some of the justices' recent deliberations.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was appointed by Trump in 2018, for example, did not immediately support his conservative colleagues in two big recent cases. He even went so far as to try to convince them to avoid making a decision altogether.

Chief Justice John Roberts, another conservative, meanwhile made it clear the he would not support further extension of the right to carry firearms.

The leaks made some observers believe they were meant to push the right into calling for even further conservative justices.

"What's the purpose of these leaks?" Houston lawyer Raffi Melkonian asked on Twitter, speculating that they were meant to scare conservatives into supporting stauncher candidates, part of a quest he said was meant to bring in justices "who-have-committed-on-abortion."

Not to be outdone, Biden has indicated that he will also make available a shortlist of candidates for the Supreme Court. His criteria? Diversity.

"We are putting together a list of a group of African American women who are qualified and have the experience to be on the court," he said.