WASHINGTON (CN) — Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the first woman and first Jewish-American to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol on Friday, her casket met at the building’s East steps by family and hundreds of gathered onlookers.
“All the days of her life she pursued justice, even in illness,” Lauren Holtzblatt, rabbi of the Adas Israel Congregation in Washington said during a small ceremony in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall. “She fought five bouts with cancer and she supported her beloved Marty through his battle with cancer as well. Each time, she pressed forward. She returned to work, to the bench, to the court with focus, each and every time.”
Memorial services began Wednesday for Ginsburg, lying in repose at the U.S. Supreme Court until Thursday evening. A motorcade transported her body from the court Friday, where it was received by uniformed officers of every branch of the U.S. military and carried through the Capitol Rotunda.
Denyce Graves, an American operatic soprano, offered two musical selections, “Deep River, My Home is Over Jordan,” and Norah Jones’ “American Anthem.” The daughter of immigrants, Ginsburg briefly aspired to become an opera singer before going first to Harvard Law School and then graduating from Columbia Law School joint first in her class.
The Lincoln Catafalque, a hastily designed structure made in 1865 to support the body of Abraham Lincoln after his assassination, held the casket as lawmakers approached throughout the morning to pay their respects. The structure is used for Americans lying in honor at the Capitol, like Rosa Parks, who was honored in 2005.
The Democratic candidates for president and vice president, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, attended the ceremony and offered a brief pause of respect at Ginsburg’s casket, while Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also made brief appearances. Many lawmakers filed in an out of Statuary Hall Friday, socially distant in light of the global coronavirus pandemic.
“It is with profound sorrow and deep sympathy to the Ginsburg family, that I have the high honor to welcome Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to lie in state in the Capitol of the United States,” Pelosi said, opening Friday’s services.
Holtzblatt, standing beside a portrait of Ginsburg, said the late justice was driven by the pursuit of justice. In her chambers, Holtzblatt said, Ginsburg framed a piece of art that reads “tzedek, tzedek, tirdof,” or “justice, justice, you must pursue.”
This command came from the 16th chapter of Deuteronomy, Holtzblatt said, rabbinic tradition being to assign meaning to every word in the Torah. The repetition directed to Ezra — religious leader of the Jewish faith in the Torah — to follow the path, she said.
“This was how Justice Ginsburg lived her life,” Holtzblatt said. “Justice did not arrive like a lightning bolt, but rather through dogged persistence. All the days of her life, real change, she said, enduring change, happens one step at a time.”
Holtzblatt noted educational and societal roadblocks that never impeded Ginsburg’s pursuit of justice. Chosen as her high school class valedictorian, Ginsburg grieved with her father after her mother, Celia, died a day before her graduation and did not give her planned speech.
Her sister, Marilyn, died of meningitis when Ginsburg was 14 months old. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she could not find a law firm to hire her because of her gender. Through all these obstacles, she persevered, Holtzblatt said.
“Pursing justice took resilience, persistence, a commitment to never stop,” Holtzblatt said. “As a lawyer, she won equality for women and men not in one swift victory but brick by brick, case by case, through meticulous, careful lawyering. She changed the course of American law.”
Known famously for her dissents toward the end of her life, Holtzblatt said those dissents were Ginsburg’s attempt at penning the future opinions of the high court. Holtzblatt said Ginsburg believed dissents spoke to a future age and the greatest disagreements of opinion, gradually, over time, become the majority view of the court.
“Today we stand in sorrow and tomorrow, we the people must carry on justice Ginsburg’s legacy,” Holtzblatt said. “Even as our hearts are breaking, we must rise with her strength and move forward. She was our prophet, our North Star, our strength, for so very long. Now she must be permitted to rest after toiling so hard for every single one of us.”