Justice Ginsburg appears ‘alert and engaged’ in arguments; is a different justice mulling retirement?

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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Supreme Court official portrait.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked the first question during oral arguments on Tuesday—her first time on the bench since she had surgery recently for lung cancer.

Ginsburg, who turns 86 next month, “appeared fully alert and engaged” during the arguments, the National Law Journal reports. “And neither of her questions appeared to be prewritten,” the article reports, because she asked specific questions about statements made by Beth Brinkmann, a lawyer representing a company that owns an invalidated patent.

Ginsburg is often the first person to ask questions during oral arguments. According to New York Times coverage, “Ginsburg asked crisp and clear questions of both sides” on Tuesday.

Ginsburg had missed 11 oral arguments in January as she recovered from surgery, SCOTUSblog reports. During the arguments Tuesday, Ginsburg sat straight up instead of bowing her head as she sometimes does. “Ginsburg is indeed back in the saddle,” the blog reports.

The Washington Post, USA Today and the Associated Press also have stories, while How Appealing links to additional coverage.

Several articles reported that, before the arguments began, Ginsburg had climbed three steps to the bench without difficulty.

At issue in the case at hand is whether the U.S. Postal Service counts as a person who can petition for review proceedings in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office under the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act. The Postal Service successfully had challenged a patent for a machine that scans and processes that was held by Return Mail Inc.

Ginsburg has been working from home while she recovered from surgery on Dec. 21 to remove two cancerous nodules from her left lung. There was no evidence the cancer had spread. She read briefs and transcripts of the oral arguments during her recuperation.

While the focus has been on Ginsburg, a Feb. 13 New Yorker article considers whether Justice Clarence Thomas is considering retirement.

Thomas is 70 and is “the longest-tenured associate justice on the court,” the New Yorker reports. “With 53 Republicans now in the Senate (and no filibusters allowed on Supreme Court nominations), President Trump would have a free hand in choosing a dream candidate for his conservative base if Thomas were to retire this year.”

Thomas hasn’t hidden the fact that he doesn’t enjoy his job as a justice, but his friends say he feels an obligation to remain on the bench as long as he is able, according to the article. But the New Yorker suggests that President Donald Trump may be thinking about a possible Thomas retirement because the president “has shown unusual solicitude for Justice Thomas and his wife, Ginni, a hard-right political activist.”

Trump invited the Thomases to dinner, and he also invited Ginni Thomas and some of her colleagues to the White House for a discussion.

“Trump rarely engages in this kind of cultivation,” the New Yorker reports. “And it’s reasonable to speculate that he’s trying to persuade the justice that his seat would be in good hands if he decided to leave.”

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