Ruth Bader Ginsburg On Her Health, Opposition To Court-Packing The Supreme Court justice sat down for an interview with NPR's Nina Totenberg and said that despite battling cancer for a third time earlier this year, she's not going anywhere anytime soon.

Justice Ginsburg: 'I Am Very Much Alive'

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg says she is not going anywhere despite concerns about her health. In an interview with NPR News, she also offers some political opinions. Ginsburg says she does not favor proposals by some Democrats to change the number of Supreme Court justices. She spoke with NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Ginsburg, who got herself in trouble criticizing candidate Donald Trump in 2016, this time was critical not of any particular Democratic contender but of their proposals to offset President Trump's two conservative appointments to the court. The principle ideas are to enact term limits for Supreme Court justices or, for Democrats, should they win the presidency, to get Congress to expand the number of justices. The term limits proposal doesn't worry her because it's totally unrealistic, she says, given that the Constitution specifies life terms for federal judges.

RUTH BADER GINSBURG: And as you know, our Constitution is powerfully hard to amend.

TOTENBERG: Indeed, it takes the votes of two-thirds of the Senate and the House, and three-quarters of the states. But in contrast, as Ginsburg notes, there is no fixed number of justices specified by the Constitution. And the court, over the course of history, has had as few as five justices and as many as 10.

GINSBURG: Nine seems to be a good number, and it's been that way for a long time.

TOTENBERG: Any deviation now, she thinks, would be a big mistake.

GINSBURG: I think that was a bad idea when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt tried to pack the court.

TOTENBERG: Roosevelt's proposal would have given him six additional Supreme Court appointments, expanding the court to 15 members. Ginsburg said any similar plan would be very damaging to the court and the country.

GINSBURG: Well, if anything, it would make the court appear partisan. It would be that one side saying, when we're in power, we're going to enlarge the number of judges so we will have more people who will vote the way we want them to.

TOTENBERG: Our conversation yesterday was wide-ranging, discussing, among other things, her health. She's had three major bouts with cancer over the last 20 years. In 1999, she underwent surgery for colorectal cancer followed by nine months of chemotherapy and radiation. In 2009, she underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer and late last year for lung cancer.

You do realize that when you get a cold or a hangnail, there's a substantial portion of the population who go into a complete panic?

GINSBURG: There was a senator - I think it was after the pancreatic cancer - who announced with great glee that I was going to be dead within six months. That senator, whose name I've forgotten, is now himself dead.

(LAUGHTER)

GINSBURG: And I am very much alive.

TOTENBERG: That said, most cancer patients do worry. Some view one cancer, never mind three, as a sword of Damocles over their heads. So how does Ginsburg manage? She says she's followed the advice of the opera singer Marilyn Horne, who was asked about her pancreatic cancer diagnosis in 2005.

GINSBURG: And she said, I will live. Not that I hope I'll live or I want to live. I will live.

TOTENBERG: And how did you do your work?

GINSBURG: The work is really what saved me because I had to concentrate on reading the brief, doing a draft of an opinion. And I knew that had to get done. So I had to get past whatever my aches and pains were and just do the job.

TOTENBERG: Her lung cancer last year, however, was the first time she did not have her beloved husband, Marty, with her. He died in 2010, and she says she misses him every day, maybe especially now. Our interview was late yesterday after Ginsburg spoke at the private funeral for Justice John Paul Stevens, who died July 16 at the age of 99. Just days before, Ginsburg had been with him at a conference in Portugal. Stevens retired from the court in 2010 at the age of 90, and as the two traveled in a car together less than two weeks ago, Ginsburg told him her dream.

GINSBURG: I said that my dream is that I will stay at the court as long as he did. And his immediate response was, stay longer.

TOTENBERG: Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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