February 05, 2009

Justice Ginsburg: Prayers & Prognosis

Our prayers for a speedy recovery go out to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was operated on for pancreatic cancer today at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. While mindful of the fact that pancreatic cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to treat, we are heartened to hear that the Justice’s cancer was in an early stage.

Some quick research reveals that if the cancer was in the earliest stage – the 10% of pancreatic cancer cases where the tumor is localized and resectable – the five-year survival rate is 16.4 percent, with a median survival time of 17 months. Overall, white women with pancreatic cancer have a 4.2 percent survival rate. Among all patients receiving treatment, the median survival time is 6 months (see links below for survival statistics).

While these statistics are sobering, no one can doubt that Justice Ginsburg is a fighter who will no more lay down in the face of this disease than she does when faced with a majority opinion she views as misguided. While we have often disagreed with her “living Constitution” approach to deciding cases – and hope to have the opportunity to continue doing so – her sincerity and the strength of her convictions are unquestionable.

If nothing else, Justice Ginsburg’s illness serves to remind the President, the Senate, and groups like CFJ on both sides of the debate that – with two-thirds of the Court being 70 or older as of this September – a Supreme Court vacancy in the near future is a virtual statistical certainty.