For Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the prospect of three women on the Supreme Court is exhilarating, and she intends to stay around and enjoy it.
After the death of her husband and her own treatment for cancer, there was speculation that the 77-year-old justice would step down. But she told The Associated Press on Tuesday that she plans to remain on the court for the foreseeable future and still wants to match Justice Louis Brandeis, who retired at age 82.
Ginsburg talked with the AP in her wood-paneled office at the court as the Senate began debate on the all-but-assured confirmation of high court nominee Elena Kagan, chosen by President Barack Obama to replace John Paul Stevens. Last year, Justice Sonia Sotomayor joined the court after David Souter retired.
With Kagan's confirmation, there would be three women serving together on the Supreme Court for the first time. "To me, it's one of the most exhilarating developments," Ginsburg said.
She said the "all-consuming, constantly challenging" work at the court helped her cope with the death of her husband, Martin, from cancer in June. They had been married 56 years.
She had two opinions to write in June and constant trips between the court, her home and the hospital. "I had no time to dwell on the loss that I knew was going to be sooner rather than later," she said.
Her children persuaded her to show up in court the day after her husband's death to read one of those opinions in a closely divided case because he would have wanted her there. "I knew he would," Ginsburg said.
She keeps a large photograph of the man everybody knew as Marty on her bookcase. The folded American flag from his burial at Arlington National Cemetery rests on the window sill.
Ginsburg appeared to be in good health and good spirits, even with the strain of her husband's death and a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in 2009. She underwent surgery and chemotherapy for the cancer and was hospitalized on two other occasions last year but is maintaining an active travel schedule that is taking her across the country at least twice this summer.
There has been persistent speculation that Ginsburg could retire next year and give Obama his third vacancy to fill in as many years.
Next year probably would be Obama's last chance to get a Supreme Court nominee through the Senate before the 2012 presidential election. There hasn't been an election-year Supreme Court retirement in more than 40 years because, among other things, the opposition party in the Senate is inclined to wait for election results in the hope that it will capture the White House.
Ginsburg sought to tamp down the speculation in a lighthearted manner.
She mentioned a painting that usually hangs in her office by the German emigre artist Josef Albers. The painting is part of a traveling exhibition and is supposed to be returned in 2012.
"If anyone asks how long I'll be here, at least until my Albers comes back," she said.
Ginsburg also spoke often of Sandra Day O'Connor, who stepped down from the court in 2006 after 25 years. O'Connor's retirement briefly left Ginsburg as the only woman justice and she made clear she didn't like it. Now two women have been nominated to the court in the past two years.
Ginsburg pointed out that she also is the oldest justice, with the retirement of the 90-year-old Stevens. Next in line is her close friend and ideological opposite, 74-year-old Antonin Scalia.
Ginsburg observed that she placed her desk in her recently renovated office the same way Scalia did in his.
But the similarities end there, Ginsburg said, gesturing at the many paintings that hang on the walls. "He would not put up any of my art, and I wouldn't put up with his elk or whatever it is," she said of the hunting trophies Scalia displays.