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The absurdity of the Supreme Court


Ruth Bader Ginsburg is being treated for cancer, apparently a metastatic recurrence of the pancreatic cancer she was first diagnosed with eleven years ago:

Friday’s statement indicates that the pancreatic cancer Ginsburg was treated for in 2009 has returned again, this time in her liver, and that she tried one of the new immunotherapies for cancer, but it failed to shrink the tumors. It is not liver cancer.

Gemcitabine is a standard chemotherapy treatment that is a mainstay for pancreatic cancer that has spread.Ginsburg has had several bouts with cancer. She had radiation therapy for the pancreatic cancer in 2019 and had some tumors taken out of a lung in 2018. She had colon cancer in 1999.

A few notes:

(1) Ginsburg is probably alive today only because she’s a Supreme Court justice. By far the most common form of pancreatic cancer has a terrible survival rate — 11-year survivors are extremely rare — because it’s almost always diagnosed at a late stage. (It’s never been clear if this is the form of the disease that RBG has, but it’s much more likely than not). Ginsburg’s pancreatic cancer was detected at an unusually early stage in 2009 only because she undergoes very comprehensive regular health screenings (MRIs etc.).

(2) That RBG did a selfish and irresponsible thing when she didn’t step down in 2014 is something that has been said many times on this blog, so I don’t want to add to the dead horse series. Still I find the cult that’s been quite strategically built up around her to be not merely annoying but politically toxic. Liberals and leftists will have been very lucky if it doesn’t end up costing us dearly over the next twenty or thirty years. We’ve dodged this particular bullet for four or five years now, so four or five more months may not seem like a big deal. It is (Breyer, although his health doesn’t seem nearly as precarious, should have also resigned in 2014).

(3) It’s hard to even imagine now, but Ginsburg’s nomination was confirmed by a nearly unanimous Senate vote. That by itself indicates how radically the politics of SCOTUS nominations have shifted over the past generation. Too bad Ginsburg and Breyer have behaved as if they are oblivious to this. (Of course they aren’t, but selfishness has trumped public spiritedness in both their cases).

(4) Lifetime tenure for SCOTUS justices, whose seats therefore come up in highly randomized ways, is at this point in American political history a simply insane system, that needs to be abolished. 18 year terms provide a straightforward solution to this problem, but would require cooperation from both the Republican party and the SCOTUS itself, so we may be waiting awhile until there’s a bad enough crisis that reform becomes possible (A SCOTUS with one or more empty seats on it for years is an inevitable consequence of the present system).

(5) You still hear centrists and even liberals repeat the absurd right wing talking point that SCOTUS judges should decided cases “apolitically.” This is every bit as preposterous as arguing that any other matter of public policy should be decided “apolitically.” The sorts of decisions the Supreme Court makes are intensely political by nature, and could not possibly be otherwise. This is just one — although perhaps the most important — reason why our current system makes no sense.

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