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JEFF JACOBY

Life tenure no longer serves Supreme Court

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who turned 80 in March, is the oldest justice on the US Supreme Court. Though the high court’s leading liberal says her health is fine, there are signs that age may be taking its toll. She has dozed on the bench during oral argument and has been hospitalized after experiencing faintness and low blood pressure. In early May, for the second time in a year, she fell at home and broke two ribs, necessitating weeks of convalescence and pain medication. More seriously, Ginsburg has twice been diagnosed with cancer. She underwent surgery, followed by radiation and chemotherapy, for colon cancer in 1999; she was operated on again for early stage pancreatic cancer in 2009.

Not surprisingly, some on the left have been urging Ginsburg to retire. That would give President Obama the opportunity to name her successor — presumably a much younger liberal, who would likely be a reliably left-leaning voice on the court for decades to come. But Ginsburg says she’s not going anywhere. She told Reuters last week that she feels strong and energized, and called being a justice “the best job in the world for a lawyer.” Ginsburg used to say her goal was to match the 23-year tenure of Justice Louis Brandeis; now she points to a new “model” in her former colleague John Paul Stevens, who retired in 2010 at age 90, after nearly 35 years on the court.

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