AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg underwent unscheduled surgery this morning to open a blocked artery to her heart. The procedure was said to be successful, and Ginsburg is expected to be released soon. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg is with us, and Nina, I understand this came as a surprise. When and how did Justice Ginsburg become aware she had a problem?
NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Well, she was working out with her trainer late yesterday afternoon or early evening and apparently had some tightness in her chest and some difficulty. And he and others talked her into going to the hospital to get it checked out. And there, they had found she had a blocked artery, and it was operated on. They had to put a stent in to unblock the artery. The rest of the heart is apparently fine.
CORNISH: And remind us, how old is she?
TOTENBERG: She's 81.
CORNISH: And she has had serious health challenges in the past. Do you expect her to be back at work in the near future?
TOTENBERG: Well, she was already back at work today in the sense that she was demanding work from her staff, apparently. She's expected to go home tomorrow and expected to be on the bench on Monday. So, you know, stents are pretty common these days, and even though she's 81, she seems to have weathered it well.
CORNISH: Justice Ginsburg is a two-time cancer survivor. How is her health generally?
TOTENBERG: Well, her health has been pretty good. Of course, as you say, she's had cancer twice. Once was colon cancer in '99, and 10 years later she had pancreatic cancer and amazingly survived that. She does look like a tiny, frail person, but people don't understand that she's a very tough cookie. She keeps a back-breaking schedule, and she's a good athlete. And I asked her recently, at the 92nd Street Y in New York when I did a program with her - I said, so what have you given up, given the fact that you're 81? Here's what she said.
(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)
JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG: I think I've given up water skiing.
CORNISH: All right. (Laughter) You know, some liberals, though, have called for Ginsburg to retire and to essentially give President Obama a chance to appoint her successor.
TOTENBERG: And she's pretty forcefully pushed back against that. She has no interest in leaving the court, and she had this to say in that interview about it.
(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)
GINSBURG: If anyone could get through, it would not be someone that has my record.
TOTENBERG: Meaning get through the Senate, and she's probably right about that. After all, Justices Kagan and Sotomayor, who were Obama's two previous appointees, were relatively uncontroversial choices. And there were only five Republicans who supported Kagan and nine who supported Sotomayor. That would seem to indicate that, politically, it's a pretty tough order to get somebody confirmed that Ginsburg would like, and she says, she's doing the job she intends to do as long as she's able to do it. She keeps this - I said, this back-breaking schedule. She makes appearances all over the country, and people are always just wowed by her acuity, her smarts, her quiet humor. But she is 81, and it certainly starts people thinking.
CORNISH: That's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Nina, thank you.
TOTENBERG: Thank you.
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