Ruth Bader Ginsburg Illness: If Trump Appointee Replaces Supreme Court Justice It Will Be 'Brutal,' Conservative Legal Expert Says

After Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg missed her first oral arguments in more than 25 years on the bench this week while recovering from an operation to remove two cancerous growths from her left lung, many have expressed concern over whether she would return to the bench.

While doctors have said that Ginsburg's recovery time would be "normal" for the procedure she underwent, the 85-year-old's third struggle with cancer comes at a critical time for the Supreme Court.

If Ginsburg, who will turn 86 in March, is unable to return to the bench, President Donald Trump would have the chance to nominate a third Supreme Court justice to the highest U.S. court.

Currently, the nine-member Court already has a five-four conservative majority following Trump's controversial appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. If Ginsburg, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by former President Bill Clinton, were to vacate her seat, Trump would have the opportunity to give the Court its largest conservative majority in decades.

Speaking to Politico, conservative legal scholar and director of the Heritage Foundation's Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies John Malcolm said that if Trump was able to pick a third Supreme Court justice, "it would be a brutal confirmation.

"The first two were not easy at all, but this would be much harder," Malcolm said. "When Neil Gorsuch was the nominee, you were replacing a conservative with a conservative. With Kavanaugh, you were replacing the perennial swing voter, who more times than not sided with the so-called conservative wing, so that slightly solidified the conservative wing.

"But if you are replacing Justice Ginsburg with a Trump appointee, that would be akin to replacing Thurgood Marshall with Clarence Thomas. It would mark a large shift in the direction of the Court."

Ginsburg's absence from the bench has left supporters particularly concerned, as she bounced back fairly quickly from previous cancer surgeries in 1999 and 2009. During both episodes, Ginsburg did not miss a single oral argument.

Now, after 25 years on the bench, Ginsburg has brought that streak to an end, missing oral arguments for the first time on Monday. It's not clear whether she will be able to participate next Monday, when another round of oral arguments is set to begin.

Speaking with CNBC, top doctors who have performed pulmonary lobectomies, the procedure Ginsburg underwent, said that they expect the Supreme Court justice would be back on the bench in less than six weeks, in time for the Court's February sitting.

"She's not even three weeks out. She's barely two weeks out," Dr. Raja Flores, chief of the division of thoracic surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, told CNBC.

"I think a lot of people are getting scared because they are concerned about the balance of the Court," Flores said. "But I'm confident she's not going anywhere. She's going to be back on the Court."

Ginsburg herself has remained adamant that she would continue to stay on the Supreme Court for as long as she could. In mid-December, she reiterated that vow, telling an audience that she would do the job "as long as I can do it full-steam."

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Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg poses for the official photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on November 30, 2018. Doctors who have performed the type of surgery Ginsburg underwent said they are confident that she will recover and return to the High Court by February. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty
Ruth Bader Ginsburg Illness: If Trump Appointee Replaces Supreme Court Justice It Will Be 'Brutal,' Conservative Legal Expert Says | U.S.