Ruth Bader Ginsburg makes first public appearance following cancer treatment

Image: Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during an event organized by the Museum of the City of New York with WNET-TV in New York on Dec. 15, 2018. Copyright Rebecca Gibian AP file
By Dartunorro Clark with NBC News Politics
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The 86-year-old justice was recently treated for a malignant tumor on her pancreas.


Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg appeared to be in good spirits on Monday as she made her first public appearance since receiving treatment for cancer.

The 86-year-old justice accepted an honorary law degree from the University at Buffalo School of Law in upstate New York just days after she completed three weeks of radiation treatment for a malignant tumor on her pancreas.

Ginsburg, a leader of court's liberal wing whose scathing dissents earned her the "Notorious RBG" nickname and in turn spawned memes and a recent documentary, even quipped about her newfound fame.

"I am now 86 years old, yet people of all ages want to take their picture with me — amazing," Ginsburg said in her speech accepting the degree, prompting laughter from the audience.

Ginsburg's health has been the subject of public scrutiny given the court's conservative majority, which stands at 5-4. Her death or retirement could potentially give President Donald Trump his third pick for the High Court. Trump appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Justice Brett Kavanaugh in 2018.

The Supreme Court said in a statement on Friday that Ginsburg underwent stereotactic ablative radiation therapy at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City after doctors discovered the cancerous tumor at the end of July.

"The tumor was treated definitively and there is no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body," the statement said. "No further treatment is needed at this time."

The justice missed oral arguments in January for the first time following surgery to remove two cancerous growths from her lung at the end of December. Ginsburg was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1999 and pancreatic cancer in 2009.

Ginsburg hinted at her health in her speech, recalling that her longtime friend Wayne Wisbaum, a Buffalo attorney who died in January, had urged her last year to give a talk in the city.

"In July 2018, Wayne wrote to me that his health disabled him from playing a lead role in the arrangements for my visit here but he still hoped to attend all the events. He asked me to confirm that I would come to Buffalo in August 2019 in any event. I did so immediately and I did not withdraw when my own health problems presented challenges," Ginsburg said.

She also sat down for a question and answer session, recounting her early efforts to combat gender discrimination as a young lawyer, her odd couple relationship with late Justice Antonin Scalia and her role as one of the court's liberals.

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