Justice Ginsburg returns after cancer surgery

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stands as Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States pose for a 2006 class photo inside the Supreme Court in Washington March 3, 2006. REUTERS/Larry Downing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to the bench on Monday 2 1/2 weeks after her surgery for pancreatic cancer.

The liberal Ginsburg, 75, the lone woman on the nine-member court, had surgery on February 5. The Supreme Court has said her cancer had not spread and was found in an early stage when it is most curable.

No mention was made of her surgery as the court returned to the bench to hear arguments after a regularly scheduled four-week recess. But Ginsburg had a smile on her face as she entered the courtroom and took her seat.

She quickly asked the second question of a U.S. government lawyer in a dispute over coal leases involving the Navajo nation Indian tribe. During the arguments, Ginsburg seemed her usual self, no different from last month’s arguments.

Ginsburg previously made clear she did not plan to miss any public sessions and would be back for Monday’s arguments.

Ginsburg, appointed to the court in 1993 by Democratic President Bill Clinton, had colon cancer in 1999, but did not miss any sessions then either.

Her pancreatic cancer surgery has raised questions about how much longer Ginsburg will stay in her job and when President Barack Obama might get his first chance to make an appointment to the high court.

In a speech over the weekend in his home state of Kentucky, U.S. Republican Senator Jim Bunning, was reported to have said that Ginsburg would likely be dead in nine months, and that he supports conservative judges.

“Bad cancer. The kind that you don’t get better from,” the Louisville Courier-Journal quoted Bunning as saying. “Even though she was operated on, usually, nine months is the longest that anybody would live after (being diagnosed) with pancreatic cancer.”

Editing by David Wiessler