Commemorations are set to begin Friday at the U.S. Capitol honoring the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the first woman in American history to lie in state at the domed building, capping days of commemoration of her extraordinary life.
Mourners are paying tribute to Ginsburg, who died last week at age 87, as her casket was on public view Wednesday and Thursday at the court’s iconic steps. It the short made procession across the street Friday morning for the private Capitol ceremony with elected officials, family and other invited guests amid coronavirus social distancing restrictions.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, are expected to attend, as is running mate vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is planning to welcome Ginsburg’s casket at the Capitol under turmoil as President Donald Trump prepares to announce a conservative nominee to replace the liberal icon weeks before the election.
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 the ceremony is expected to be a celebration and honoring of her life and work, with musical selections from one of Ginsburg’s favorite opera singers, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves.
Members of the House and Senate who are 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 most recent 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 — a private citizen, not a government official — is the only woman who has lain in honor at the Capitol.
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 walked back into the court as the chants grew louder.
As his motorcade returned to the White House, there were also chants of “Breonna Taylor” from some spectators standing on the sidewalk. Their calls came one day after it was announced that a Kentucky grand jury had brought no charges against Louisville police for her killing during a drug raid connected to a suspect who did not live at Taylor’s home.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said people have First Amendment rights, but she found the jeers “an appalling and disrespectful thing to do as the president honored Justice Ginsburg.”
“The chants were appalling but certainly to be expected when you’re in the heart of the swamp,” McEnany said.
Trump acknowledged hearing the chant, but dismissed it as not very strong. “We could hardly hear it from where we were,” he told reporters on the South Lawn later Thursday.
Trump has called Ginsburg an “amazing woman.”
A steady stream of mourners stood outside the high court Thursday. They packed the streets and hundreds waited in line to pay their respects to Ginsburg. The crowd was hushed and respectful, except for when the president arrived.
Attorney Laura French traveled to Washington from Athens, Georgia, to pay her respects. She said she owes her success to trailblazers like Ginsburg. She also said that GOP senators set precedent four years ago when they refused to meet with potential nominee Merrick Garland, and she questioned whether they now had the right to rush through a nominee. She said it was right for Trump to come pay respects, though she doesn”t agree with him politically.
“He should, he’s the president and she gave her life and service to this country and to these beliefs that are in our Constitution,” French said.
Rocky Twyman, who lives in nearby Rockville, Maryland, said Ginsburg’s death was a great loss for the country.
“She believed in equality for all people,” he said.
He said it was right for Trump to come, but questioned his motives. “I thought it was good, but a lot of people said it was insincere because he’s going to go around and nominate someone for her seat,” he said.
Ginsburg’s granddaughter has said it was Ginsburg’s wish that a replacement justice be chosen by the winner of the November presidential election — a claim Trump has questioned. Crowds at the Supreme Court also chanted “honor her wish.”
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.