The decision to leave the pinnacle of the legal world never is an easy one, even for justices with health problems.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist remained even as he suffered through thyroid cancer. He died in September 2005, still chief justice.
Rehnquist’s death allowed President George W. Bush to nominate another conservative, John Roberts, the current chief justice. The Roberts court has five justices appointed by Republican presidents and four appointed by Democrats.
Ginsburg has repeatedly rebuffed suggestions that it’s time to step down. She remains one of the court’s fastest writers and she has continued to make frequent public appearances around the country.
“So who do you think could be nominated now that would get through the Senate that you would rather see on the court than me?” she said in an Associated Press interview in July.
As for the next presidential election, she has said on more than one occasion, “I am hopeful about 2016.”
In an October interview in The New Yorker magazine, Obama said Ginsburg was “doing a wonderful job.”
Article continues below“She is one of my favorite people,” Obama told the magazine. “Life tenure means she gets to decide, not anybody else, when she chooses to go.”
In 2005, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said nothing publicly when he had a stent inserted to keep an artery open after experiencing mild chest pain. The court revealed the procedure when Kennedy returned to the hospital to have the stent replaced 10 months later.
Stents are mesh scaffoldings inserted into about half a million people in the U.S. each year to prop open arteries clogged by years of cholesterol buildup. Doctors guide a narrow tube through a blood vessel in the groin or an arm, inflate a tiny balloon to flatten the blockage, and then push the stent into place.