Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg was hospitalized Thursday at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center for surgery relating to pancreatic cancer.

This is an exceptionally serious personal matter for Ginsberg and those who highly regard this remarkable jurist, a historic figure in the law who currently serves as the only woman serving on the nation’s highest court. Doctors found the justice’s cancerous growth early, but pancreatic cancers have poor rates of long-term survival.

It is also an exceptionally serious political matter for President Obama.

Obama would say, correctly, that the first best hope is for Ginsberg to return to good health and the bench. She is a remarkably able jurist who still has much to contribute to the court.

But if Ginsberg chooses to leave the court, the new president will find himself in the rare position of selecting a Supreme Court Justice in the first months of his first term.

Obama’s selection to fill a seat on the bench vacated by Ginsberg, one of the court’s most liberal members, would not be likely to tip the balance on the closely divided court.

Or the gender balance.

Obama, a former professor of constitutional law, would almost certainly nominate a jurist with views regarding the law similar to those of Ginsberg. And it is difficult to imagine that he would not choose woman.

There are plenty of prospective nominees.

Among the federal judges being mentioned are:

* Judge Diane Wood of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago

* Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco

* Judge Sonia Sotomayor of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York

* Judge Margaret McKeown of the 9th Circuit in San Francisco

If Obama were to nominate Wardlaw or Sotomayor, he would be promoting not just a woman but the court’s first Hispanic justice.

Other prospects include:

* Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm

* Former Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan (Obama’s nominee for, solicitor general, a position that historically has been a stepping stone to the high court)

* Stanford University law professor Pam Karlan

* Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Sears.

And here’s a name that should be on the list: Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard law professor who currently chairs chair the five-member Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the implementation of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act.

Warren’s aggressive efforts to figure out how the federal bailout money is being spent have made her a hero to those who did not already know that she was a hero for her unrelenting efforts to defend the interests of working families when the Congress was rewriting bankruptcy laws.