Video: Ginsburg back on the bench

updated 2/23/2009 4:06:20 PM ET 2009-02-23T21:06:20

Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning apologized Monday to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for saying he believes she could die within a year from pancreatic cancer.

At the same time, his planned bid for a third term in 2010 may have gotten tougher with one of Kentucky's top Republicans saying he has not ruled out a possible run.

Bunning, a Hall-of-Fame major league pitcher, who has no medical background, said during a speech Saturday that Ginsburg has "bad cancer. The kind that you don't get better from," the Courier-Journal of Louisville reported. "Even though she was operated on, usually, nine months is the longest that anybody would live" with pancreatic cancer.

"I apologize if my comments offended Justice Ginsberg," the two-term Kentucky junior senator said Monday in a statement, which misspelled Ginsburg's name. "That certainly was not my intent."

Doctors diagnosed the 75-year-old justice and removed a small tumor this month. They said the cancer was caught early, when it is most curable. The American Cancer Society estimates that 20 percent to 24 percent of patients whose pancreatic cancer is caught early survive five years.

Ginsburg was in court Monday, 18 days after her surgery.

"It is great to see her back at the Supreme Court today and I hope she recovers quickly," the 77-year-old Bunning said. "My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family."

Meanwhile, Republican Kentucky state Senate President David Williams would not rule out a possible run in the primary. Williams has met with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the GOP campaign arm in Washington, according to a person familiar with the situation who requested anonymity because the meeting was private.

Williams wouldn't confirm whether he had such a meeting.

"I'm just saying that I haven't made any decision," Williams said. "I've always been for Jim Bunning, he's always been for me. But that, you know, we'll just see what the rest of the year brings."

Republican officials have said they are not recruiting candidates to run against Bunning, who has had lackluster fundraising so far, but has said he intends to seek re-election.

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In January, Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, fueled speculation about Bunning's retirement when he told reporters in Washington that Bunning had not yet announced his intentions. Bunning said later he'd spelled out his intentions to McConnell at a meeting in December and that McConnell must have had a "lapse of memory."

Bunning barely defeated Democrat Daniel Mongiardo with 51 percent in 2004, a year that favored Republicans.

Ginsburg was appointed in 1993 by President Bill Clinton and is the only woman on the high court. There was no immediate comment Monday from the court on Bunning's remarks.

If Ginsburg or another justice leaves, it would fall to President Barack Obama to pick a successor, who must be confirmed by the Senate. Anyone he might select to replace her probably would be as liberal as she, keeping in place the 5-4 conservative tilt of the court.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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