Ginsburg illness casts spotlight on long-term court absences

Staff Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has missed a month of Supreme Court arguments as she recovers from lung cancer surgery. But she’s not the first justice to be away for a while and her absence hardly compares with those of some of her predecessors.
The day before the Supreme Court began its term in October 1949, Justice William Douglas broke 14 ribs and suffered a punctured lung when he was thrown from his horse on a trail in the Cascade Mountains in Washington. He didn’t return to the bench for nearly a half year, and his long recovery caused delays in several cases, including challenges to segregation.
Like much of what goes on away from public view at the Supreme Court, how the justices deal with a colleague’s absence can be opaque. The individual justice decides whether to rule on cases even if she has missed arguments. Indeed, Chief Justice John Roberts already has announced that Ginsburg is participating in the cases she missed.
And only the justice can decide when an injury or illness is so severe that retirement is the only option. A quarter century after his riding accident, Douglas suffered a serious stroke, but refused to retire for months. His weakened state caused a backlog in the court’s work and the other justices refused to issues decisions in cases where Douglas had provided the fifth, majority-making vote...To read more, please refer to our print or online edition.

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