Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, at 87 the oldest member of the US Supreme Court, participated in oral arguments on Wednesday a day after being hospitalized to undergo treatment for a benign gall bladder condition, the latest in a series of medical issues.
The argument in a case involving a dispute over an Obamacare requirement that employers that offer employees health insurance provide coverage for women's birth control was conducted by teleconference amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Ginsburg, who was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, posed lengthy questions expressing doubt over a bid by President Donald Trump's adminstration to implement rules allowing employers to obtain religious exemptions from the contraception mandate.
The liberal justice told Solicitor General Noel Francisco that the administration has "tossed entirely to the wind what Congress considered to be essential, that women be provided this service, with no hassle and no cost to them."
Ginsburg had a gallstone that had caused an infection and was treated non-surgically, court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said on Tuesday, adding that the justice was to remain hospitalized for a day or two. Ginsburg has experienced a number of serious health issues in recent years, including treatment for pancreatic cancer last year.
Tuesday's hospitalization could present a risk as it comes amid a pandemic that continues to surge throughout the United States and around the world. The coronavirus has proven to be particularly dangerous in elderly people, especially those with underlying medical issues. Three of the nine justices are over age 70, including Ginsburg as well as Justices Stephen Breyer (81) and Clarence Thomas (71).
The hospital on Wednesday referred questions to the court about how it is handling Ginsburg's presence. The court did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ginsburg's was treated for an inflammatory condition of the gallbladder known as acute cholecystitis. Following an oral argument session on Monday, tests found that a gallstone that had migrated to Ginsburg's cystic duct, a tube that empties the gallbladder, blocking it and causing an infection, Arberg said.
Ginsburg has had several health scares in recent years. In November 2018, she broke three ribs in a fall. Subsequent medical tests led to treatment for lung cancer that caused her to miss oral arguments in January 2019. She returned to the bench, but said in August that she had received radiation therapy to treat pancreatic cancer.
Most recently, Ginsburg was hospitalized in November for two nights suffering from a fever and chills, but returned to work at the court the day after being released.
Her health is closely watched because a Supreme Court vacancy would give Republican President Donald Trump the opportunity to appoint a third justice to the nine-member court and prod it further to the right. The court currently has a 5-4 conservative majority including two justices appointed by Trump.