Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lauded as a Trailblazer in Supreme Court Ceremony

Supreme Court police officers carry the flag-draped casket of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg into the Great Hall at the Supreme Court in Washington on Wednesday. Ginsburg, 87, died of cancer on Sept. 18. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

WASHINGTON (CN) — It was a somber and silent ceremony Wednesday morning as hundreds gathered to watch the casket of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ascend the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ginsburg, who died Friday in her Washington home, will be honored at the court until Thursday night, her casket lying in repose in the court’s main hall. On Friday her body will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol in Statutory Hall — Ginsburg becoming the first woman to receive the honor in American history, reserved for those who have led lives of distinguished service.

Ginsburg’s former clerks lined the court steps shortly before her body arrived at the court’s West entrance Wednesday, turning slowly as it passed to watch the casket — draped in an American flag — make its way inside. 

There, the eight remaining justices and their spouses, along with Ginsburg’s family, held a small ceremony. The Lincoln Catafalque, a pine board structure hastily made in 1865 to support the body of Abraham Lincoln after his assassination, sustained the casket while those gathered inside gave brief remarks.

Chief Justice John Roberts said Ginsburg’s story was one of the American dream. She was the daughter of immigrants, with aspirations of becoming an opera singer while her mother provided for the family as a Brooklyn bookkeeper.

“But she chose the law,” Roberts said. “Subjected to discrimination in law school the job market, because she was a woman, Ruth would grow to become the leading advocate fighting such discrimination in court. She was not an opera star, but she found her stage, right behind me in our courtroom.”

Ginsburg penned more than 483 opinions during her time on the court, Roberts said, attributing the fact that women today outnumber men in law school as a reflection of Ginsburg’s influence on the profession.

“Her voice in court and in our conference, room was soft, but when she spoke, people listened,” Roberts said. “Among the words that best describe Ruth: tough, brave, a fighter, a winner. But also, thoughtful, careful, compassionate, honest. … Justice Ginsburg had many virtues of her own, but she also unavoidably promoted one particular one, humility in others.”

Lauren Holtzblatt, rabbi of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, briefly sang hymns before the gathered crowd and offered comfort to Ginsburg’s family — gathered in the small front row of the chamber in front of the casket. 

“Born into a world that does not see you, that does not believe in your potential, that does not give you a path for opportunity or a clear path for education and despite this, to be able to see beyond the world you are in to imagine that something can be different,” Holtzblatt said. “That is the job of a prophet and it is the rare profit, who not only imagines a new world, but makes that world a reality in her lifetime. This was the brilliance and vision of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” 

Kara Stewart of Martin, Ky., stands outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Wednesday before a private ceremony and public viewing of the flag-draped casket of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Holtzblatt briefly outlined Ginsburg’s history defending the rights of other Americans — a career that included six arguments before the Supreme Court and a judgeship on the D.C. Circuit before her Supreme Court tenure. Ginsburg’s career was a path-marking model for other young women and girls of all ages “who now know no office is out of reach for their dreams.”

“Nothing could stop justice Ginsburg’s unflagging devotion to this project, not even cancer,” Holtzblatt said. “Justice Ginsburg, m’dor l’dor, from generation to generation, we promise to carry forward your legacy.”

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