The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg began lying in state on Friday, becoming the first woman in U.S. history to do so.
After lying in repose in front of the Supreme Court for two days earlier this week, lawmakers and other acquaintances of the justice, who died a week ago, gathered in the Capitol’s Statuary Hall to say their goodbyes and honor the legacy of the second female justice on the nation’s highest court.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opened the ceremony noting that it was with “profound sorrow” that she welcomed Ginsburg and her family.
Former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill, as well as vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris and several of her colleagues who also ran for president this year, were in attendance as well.
Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, who led a ceremony for Ginsburg at the court on Wednesday, also eulogized the justice on Friday, which also marked the anniversary that the first female justice on the court, Sandra Day O’Connor, was sworn in.
“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,” Holtzblatt said, adding that in doing so, Ginsburg “changed the course of American law.”
Holtzblatt noted that Ginsburg is also the first Jewish woman to lie in state at the Capitol.
She relayed anecdotes about Ginsburg and the notoriety she gained for reading dissents from the bench in recent years, arguing that such opinions “were not cries of defeat, they were blueprints for the future.”
Holtzblatt also used Ginsburg’s own memories to sum up her trailblazing status.
“Justice [Sandra Day] O’Connor once said to me, ‘Suppose we had come of age in a time when women lawyers were welcome at the bar. You know what? Today we would have been retired partners from some large law firm. But because the route was not open to us, we had to find another way, and both end up on the United States Supreme Court,'” Ginsburg once said.
According to a pool report, at this recollection Biden nodded his head. At other points during the ceremony, several women in attendance appeared to be wiping their eyes.
Holtzblatt closed her remarks by pointing to Ginsburg’s reputation as a cultural icon and a liberal hero, alluding to the importance with which progressives placed on her as a bulwark against President Donald Trump’s conservative Supreme Court nominees.
“Today we stand in sorrow and tomorrow we, the people, must carry on Justice Ginsburg’s legacy, even as our hearts are breaking, we must rise with her strength and move forward,” she said. “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. May the memory of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg forever and ever be a blessing.”
Despite the magnitude of the occasion, one that would typically draw leaders of both parties together in a moment of bipartisan solidarity, the Republican leaders of either chamber of Congress — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — were not spotted at the ceremony, though aides for both men appeared in the hall, according to pool reports.
When the hearse carrying Ginsburg’s casket arrived at the Capitol from the Supreme Court, only Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer were waiting atop the steps and accompanied Ginsburg’s family into the ceremony.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise was the highest-ranking Republican spotted at the ceremony, which reflected the times with chairs spread throughout the hall to abide by social distancing guidelines amid the coronavirus pandemic.
After lawmakers and other attendees of the private ceremony passed by Ginsburg’s casket, the late justice’s personal trainer, Bryant Johnson, whose workout for Ginsburg has become famous, dropped to the ground and did three push-ups before getting back up and leaving the chamber.
Later, Democratic women lawmakers returned to the chamber, led by Pelosi, where they circled Ginsburg’s casket, and a handful rested their hands on the casket before leaving. They were followed later by a group of male Democratic lawmakers, who also circled the casket.
More members of Congress — including some Republicans — staffers, journalists, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the Joint Chiefs of Staff continued to trickle into the hall for another few hours to gather in front of Ginsburg’s casket before female lawmakers assembled on the steps of the Capitol as the justice was transported out of the building.
Speaking to reporters later on Friday, Harris declined to discuss the political ramifications of Ginsburg’s death and Senate Republicans’ plans to confirm a replacement with the election just weeks away, explaining that “today I’m just really thinking about RBG.”
“I think it’s actually really — it’s very important, I think, that in the midst of being 39 days away from the election that we honor one of the greatest Americans, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in terms of all that she did, all that she inspired, all that she empowered both legally and just in terms of the way she lived her life.”
The senator told reporters that Ginsburg “absolutely” paved the way for her.
“Because she, first of all, made America see what leadership looks like. In the law in terms of public service, and she broke so many barriers, and I know that she did it intentionally knowing that people like me could follow.”