Supreme Court’s Unacceptable Policy of Hiding Justices’ Health Problems
U.S. Supreme Court justices have long been key players in the nation’s political life – including being big issues in presidential and congressional campaigns.
So, naturally, the health of individual justices is now an object of real concern – as is the court’s tendency to obscure, or simple cover-up, major health issues. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s only recently disclosed battle with liver cancer is a case in point. In a May statement, the court’s public affairs office said nothing about cancer”
On Friday, however, Ginsburg confirmed that the May statement did more to obscure the truth about her health than to illuminate it.
It turns out that back in February, the justice got word that a regular “scan” found lesions on her liver. A biopsy appears to have confirmed that the growths were malignant cancer, as Ginsburg says she embarked on immunotherapy and then chemotherapy when the first treatment “proved unsuccessful.”
It’s part of a long pattern of the court hiding details about justices’ health:
Earlier this month, it emerged that Chief Justice John Roberts had fallen, bled profusely and required stitches on his head while on a morning walk near his home in Maryland in late June. Roberts spent the night in the hospital, but the episode was not acknowledged by the court until The Washington Post got a tip about it and asked for comment.
And back in 2016, Justice Antonin Scalia’s death while on a hunting trip in Texas stunned the legal and political world.
However, days later, a sheriff’s report revealed that the 79-year-old Reagan appointee was suffering from a slew of undisclosed illnesses, including diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, obstructive sleep apnea and coronary artery disease. Scalia looked a bit overweight, but the public had no idea about the long list of afflictions.
After Scalia’s death, a reporter asked each justice about his or her health. The response was as vague as it was terse:
“You can expect to see an able and energetic court when we reconvene in October,” Roberts wrote. “The Court’s Public Information Office will continue to provide information when a need to inform the public arises.”
The public has a right to expect transparency from those entrusted with a high office – particularly those who serve what are, essentially, lifetime terms.
Obscuring the truth, or simply lying, will only erode public trust in the institution.
Image Credit: Joe Ravi [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons