WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made one final visit Friday to the marble palace he dominated for the past three decades.
His baritone voice silenced and his mighty pen relinquished, Scalia was carried in a flag-draped casket into the court’s Great Hall and placed on the Lincoln Catafalque, which first supported President Abraham Lincoln’s casket across the street in the U.S. Capitol after his assassination in 1865.
There he was honored by the remaining eight justices and 98 of his former law clerks, all of whom stood as one of Scalia’s nine children, Rev. Paul Scalia, recited a brief prayer. The justice’s widow, Maureen and his eight other children sat before the casket, with dozens of grandchildren standing behind them.
“You have called your servant Antonin out of this world,” Rev. Scalia said. “Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. May he rest in peace.”
Scalia died suddenly Saturday morning at a West Texas hunting resort, just days after returning from an extended public speaking trip to Singapore and Hong Kong. His death has set off an unprecedented political battle between the White House and the Republican-controlled Senate over how and when he should be replaced, with the court’s ideological balance at stake.
For two days, however, that battle will take a back seat to the pomp and circumstance befitting one of the nation’s leading public figures — the son of an Italian immigrant who made an indelible impact on the nation’s highest court for nearly 30 years.
Scalia will lie in repose all day and into the evening so that his fellow justices, law clerks, Supreme Court employees and Americans who revered or simply respected him can pay homage. Groups of four former clerks, rotating every 30 minutes, will stand beside the coffin at all times.
President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are expected to pay their respects in the afternoon. They will not attend Saturday’s funeral for Scalia, instead deciding to be represented by Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill.
Obama’s views on the Constitution and federal laws tangled with the 79-year-old justice’s originalist approach, but White House officials said the decision not to attend the funeral was simply procedural, based on the president’s large security detail.
Friday’s ceremonies began in below-freezing weather when eight Supreme Court police officers carried Scalia’s casket up the steps of the marble courthouse and into the Great Hall. Scalia’s large retinue of former law clerks, as well as his super-sized family that includes 36 grandchildren, lined the steps.
Six other justices have been accorded such a privilege: Chief Justices Earl Warren, Warren Burger and William Rehnquist, and Associate Justices Thurgood Marshall, William Brennan and Harry Blackmun. Marshall’s widow, Cecilia, and son, Thurgood Marshall Jr., stood behind the eight remaining justices during the brief ceremony, along with several of the justices’ spouses.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, looking slight next to her younger and larger colleagues, appeared saddened at the loss of her dear friend. Justice Clarence Thomas, like Scalia a deeply religious conservative, mouthed prayers as the casket was carried inside. Justice Elena Kagan, a fledgling hunting buddy of Scalia’s, held back tears.
Included among the honorary pallbearers Friday were Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit and former U.S. solicitor general Paul Clement, former Scalia law clerks who would be potential Supreme Court nominees under a Republican president.
The Great Hall was bedecked with potted palms, wreaths of flowers from the Senate and House of Representatives, and a large portrait of the late justice, painted by Nelson Shanks. Busts of the 16 former Supreme Court chief justices lined the way toward the courtroom, where Scalia’s place on the bench was draped in black wool crepe.
On Saturday, the deeply devout Catholic justice will be celebrated at a funeral Mass in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, followed by a private burial.
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