WASHINGTON (CN) – Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia returned for the final time Friday to the court he helped define for the past three decades.
Scalia, who died last week, lay in repose in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court building in Washington Friday as mourners waited in a line that wrapped around the block for a chance to pay their respects to the late conservative justice.
Scalia’s flag-draped casket arrived at the Supreme Court at 9:30 a.m. Friday, greeted by a crowd of people and eight pallbearers who carried it inside. Scalia was placed in the Great Hall on the Lincoln Catafalque, the support first used for President Abraham Lincoln when he lay in state in the Capitol.
President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama arrived shortly after 3:30 p.m. and stood by the casket, hands clasped and heads bowed, according to a White House press pool report.
Scalia’s funeral is scheduled for Saturday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Obama will not attend the funeral but Vice President Joe Biden will, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a press briefing Wednesday.
For non-dignitaries who stood in line bundled up against the cold and wind for more than an hour, seeing the late Supreme Court justice was a chance to take part in a unique moment in history, regardless of party affiliation or ideology.
Just before noon Benjamin R. Williams, a bagpiper from Silver Spring, Maryland, played in front of a group of reporters on the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court building. Williams said he arrived at 7 a.m., and was forced to stop because of the cold.
“My hands got so cold I could hardly play,” Williams said.
As Williams walked away to have his picture taken, Marty Ellington walked down the Supreme Court steps with his two young sons, holding the white and gold bill given to those who entered the building to see Scalia.
Ellington, who lives in New York and took time from his vacation to Washington to bring his kids to the event, described the atmosphere as “stately” and hoped to make a lasting memory for his sons.
“With this occurrence I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for them to understand a little better the U.S. government,” Ellington said of his sons. “And of course it’s tragic that the justice died, but I think this is something that they will remember for the rest of their lives.”
A short time later, retired Arlington attorney Theodore Gebhard walked down the front steps of the Supreme Court, dressed warmly against the cold.
Gebhard described the scene inside as “somber,” with Scalia in the center of the Great Hall flanked by his four clerks standing next to his casket as an “honor guard.” A portrait of Scalia sat at one end of the hall along with dual floral arraignments, one from the House of Representatives and one from the Senate.
The retried attorney said he is a member of the Supreme Court bar and admired Scalia and his influence on the law.
“I won’t say a specific ruling, but his judicial philosophy of course has had a great influence on the law, his brand of originalism,” Gebhard said, though he added he preferred Justice Clarence Thomas’ version of the judicial philosophy.
Waiting in line just down the sidewalk from where Gebhard descended the stairs was Lynn Marie Morski, whose black T-shirt with bright red and white letters stood out from the sea of black coats, and not just because of the color contrast.
Morski’s t-shirt read #FeeltheBern, the rallying cry of Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic Socialist who acknowledged in a recent statement he and Scalia “differed” in their views.
While Morski, also an attorney, said she did not find much common ground with Scalia’s opinions either, she felt it was important to be a part of the historic moment. She had decided to close her jacket to hide her shirt when inside the building, but hoped Scalia would have been supportive of her choice to wear it.
“I do realize that he was a big fan of the First Amendment and so if he were looking over this today I’m sure he would approve of the fact that I am exercising my freedom of speech peacefully in this setting,” Morski said.
Known for biting dissents and conservative views, Scalia’s death has pushed Washington into a bitter partisan debate over who should be allowed to nominate his replacement. Democratic lawmakers in the Senate and on the campaign trail have called for Republicans to give President Barack Obama a fair opportunity to nominate a justice, while Republicans have sought to block an Obama nominee until a new president is in the White House.
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