Mourners gathered to honor Ginsburg under coronavirus distancing restrictions with the nation in political turmoil.
President Donald Trump is to announce a conservative nominee to replace her on Saturday, just weeks before the election. White House officials have indicated to congressional Republicans and outside allies that the nominee will be Indiana’s Amy Coney Barrett but are maintaining a semblance of suspense to let Trump announce her.
His third justice, if confirmed, would be sure to move the court rightward on health care, abortion and other pivotal issues. A Senate confirmation vote would be expected in late October.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was with “profound sorrow” that she welcomed Ginsburg and opened the private service.
She and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer stood under gray skies as Ginsburg’s casket made the short procession from the court’s steps where it had been on public view for two days to the East Front of the Capitol.
The court and the Capitol face each other across the street, separate but equal branches of government, keeping check on each other and also the White House. A military honor guard carried Ginsburg’s casket inside.
Election-season politics have rippled through the commemorations this week. Noticeably absent after being invited to Friday’s service was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is leading the rush to confirm Trump’s nominee while early state voting is underway. No justice has been confirmed so close to a presidential election.
Trump and first lady Melania Trump paid their respects Thursday as Ginsburg had lain in repose for two days at the Supreme Court, and thousands of people waited outside. Spectators booed and chanted “vote him out” as the president stood silently near Ginsburg’s casket at the top of the court’s front steps.
But Friday’s ceremony focused on Ginsburg’s life and work rather than current controversy. She was the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court and the first Jewish person to lie in state at the Capitol. The proceedings included musical selections from one of her favorite opera singers, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves.
Small in stature, large in history, the Brooklyn-born Ginsburg was remembered as an extremely bright Columbia graduate who was passed over for jobs at a time when few women became lawyers, only to go on to reshape the nation’s laws protecting women’s rights and equality.
“Brick by brick, case by case,” said Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt of the Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, she changed the course of American law.
“Today, she makes history again,” the rabbi said.
Ginsburg will be buried next week in Arlington National Cemetery beside her husband, Martin, who died in 2010. A mother of two, she battled recurring cancer.
As visitors paid tribute at Ginsburg’s casket, resting atop the catafalque used for Abraham Lincoln, the Bidens quietly joined. Joe Biden, who is Catholic, made the sign of the cross before he and his wife clasped hands and walked away.
Fewer 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. The GOP whip, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, was there.
The legacy of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the nation’s top military officers from the joint chiefs of staff paid their respects.
In the line of guests paying tribute, one dropped to the ground and did three quick pushups. It was Bryant Johnson, the justice’s beloved trainer for her popular RBG workouts.
Members of the House and Senate who were not invited because of space limitations imposed by the coronavirus were able to pay their respects before the motorcade carrying Ginsburg’s casket departed the Capitol in early afternoon.
As the hearse pulled away, lawmakers, many of them women, including Pelosi, waved goodbye.
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 most recent 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 — a private citizen, not a government official — is the only woman who has lain in honor, a separate commemoration, at the Capitol.
Tim Darnell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution contributed to this report.