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Ginsburg smiles, speaks in clear voice in return to Supreme Court bench

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stood tall and smiled as she stepped up to the bench for her first oral argument following a surgery in December.

The 85-year-old member of the court's liberal wing was forced to miss arguments in 11 cases during the month of January after two cancerous nodules were removed from her lower left lung on Dec. 21

It was the first time in more than 25 years on the court that her health has kept her from the bench.

But Ginsburg looked strong on Tuesday, holding her head high, as she stepped up and took her seat beside Chief Justice John Roberts.

Once arguments started, she was first to jump in with a question, which she asked in a crisp, clear voice. The justices were weighing whether the government can challenge patents under the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act.

Ginsburg seemed to be sending a deliberate message in her appearance on the bench Tuesday: She's not yet done.

Liberals and conservatives have been watching her closely since her absence first made national headlines.

Her health scare raised concerns among some supporters about her tenure on the court and whether she will be able to remain on the job until a Democrat wins the White House.

A Ginsburg vacancy would give President Trump his third Supreme Court appointment and allow him to replace a liberal with a conservative judge, shifting the court's ideological balance further to the right.

The White House has urged conservative judicial groups to start preparing their lists of possible replacements, Politico reported.

The Supreme Court's Public Information Office said Jan. 11 that Ginsburg's recovery was on track and that a post-surgery evaluation indicated no evidence of remaining disease, and no further treatment was required.

Her attendance at Tuesday's arguments had been expected after she was spotted at a concert last week and also attended the justices' regular closed-door conference Friday. During these private meetings, the justices decide which cases they are going to review.  

Tuesday's arguments were the first scheduled following a monthlong winter recess. On Wednesday, the court is scheduled to hear arguments in a bankruptcy case. There is also the possibility of opinions.

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