WASHINGTON — The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is lying in state Friday at the U.S. Capitol, the first woman in American history to do so, in commemoration of her extraordinary life.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was with “profound sorrow” that she welcomed the liberal icon and opened the private service. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, sat quietly with other elected officials, friends and family. His vice presidential running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris also attended.
Mourners gathered under coronavirus restrictions for the service for Ginsburg, who died last week at age 87, as her casket made the short procession from the court's steps where it had been on public view for several days to the East Front of the Capitol. A military honor guard carried it inside the Capitol's stately Statuary Hall.
Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer welcomed Ginsburg’s casket with the Capitol in turmoil. President Donald is prepared to announce a conservative nominee to replace the justice on Saturday, weeks before the election. A Senate confirmation vote is expected in late October.
Speaking ahead of the event, Pelosi told CBS that Americans need to know what’s at stake for the “rush” to confirm Ginsburg’s replacement.
The politics of the moment, in a tense election year, rippled throughout the celebrations this week of Ginsburg’s life and career. But Friday's ceremony began as a celebration and honoring of her life and work, with musical selections from one of Ginsburg’s favorite opera singers, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves.
Small in stature, large in history, Ginsburg was remembered as a bright Columbia graduate who was passed over for jobs at a time when few women entered law, only to go on to reshape the nation’s laws protecting women’s rights and equality.
To many she was simply “RBG,” or "The Notorious RBG,” as legions of fans called the Brooklyn-born justice.
“Brick by brick, case by case,” said Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt of the Adras Israel Congregation in Washington, she changed the course of American law.
“Today, she makes history again,” the rabbi said.
Few Republicans attended the service that was filled with women and Democrats. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, both former presidential contenders, were among those attending.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is leading the push for Trump’s nominee to replace Ginsburg, was invited but noticeably missing. The GOP whip, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, was there.
Services were brief, with the rabbi's reflections and prayer, before guests lined up to pass by the casket and pay their respects.
Toward the end of the line of mourners, one dropped to the ground and did three quick pushups. It was Bryant Johnson, the justice's beloved trainer of her popular workouts.
Members of the House and Senate who were not invited to the ceremony because of space limitations imposed by the coronavirus pandemic will be able to pay their respects before a motorcade carrying Ginsburg's casket departs the Capitol early afternoon.
The honor of lying in state has been accorded fewer than three dozen times, mostly to presidents, vice presidents and members of Congress. Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon, was the last person to lie in state following his death in July. Henry Clay, the Kentucky lawmaker who served as Speaker of the House and also was a senator, was the first in 1852.
Rosa Parks was honored at the Capitol when she died in 2005. But because she was a private citizen, not a government official or a Congress approved honorary, she was considered to be "lying in honor." She was one of only four civilians who have lain in honor at the Capitol, including two U.S. Capitol Police officers and Evangelist Billy Graham.
Ginsburg has lain in repose for two days at the Supreme Court, where thousands of people paid their respects, including President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump on Thursday. Spectators booed and chanted “vote him out” as the president, who wore a mask, stood silently near Ginsburg's casket at the top of the court's front steps.
Trump plans to announce his nomination Saturday of a woman to take Ginsburg's place on the high court, where she served for 27 years and was the leader of the liberal justices.
Ginsburg, the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, will be buried next week in Arlington National Cemetery beside her husband, Martin, who died in 2010.