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Peers, The President And Many Average Americans Pay Respects To Scalia

Feb 19, 2016
Originally published on February 20, 2016 5:59 pm

Justice Antonin Scalia, who died on Saturday, lay in repose at the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday, as the court, the public and the president paid their respects. While the battle over Scalia's replacement raged in the political world, the atmosphere at the court was somber.

The flag-draped casket was carried up the marble steps of the Supreme Court on Friday morning, between two long rows of former Scalia clerks, and into the Great Hall.

Inside, the remaining eight justices lined up in their new order of seniority, as they will be on the bench on Monday.

Some looked stricken as the casket was placed atop the wooden catafalque first used after President Lincoln's assassination.

Standing with the justices were their spouses, as well as the widow and son of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall. Chief Justice John Roberts' wife, Jane, briefly brushed away tears, as did some of the nearly 100 former law clerks. They would later stand in a rotating honor guard throughout the day and early evening.

Between the Great Hall columns, as if overseeing the ceremony, was a portrait of Scalia, painted by Nelson Shanks. In it, Scalia is surrounded by images representing the great influences in his life — a copy of The Federalist; a framed wedding photo of his wife, Maureen; Webster's dictionary; an image of Sir Thomas More; and, in the background, a framed certificate from the American Catholic Historical Society.

Scalia's wife, nine children and most of his 28 grandchildren, who called him "Pop," were there, too.

The late justice's son, the Rev. Paul Scalia — a Catholic priest — said traditional prayers:

"You have called your servant Antonin out of this world," he intoned. "May he rest in peace."

After the justices and family members filed out of the hall, the court's personnel — the men and women who staff the institution — filed past the casket to pay their respects. Some were in rough work clothes — janitors and carpenters — others in black suits and dresses. Some were red-eyed and brushed away tears. Some crossed themselves.

This was technically a private ceremony, open only to the justices, their families and court personnel. But reporters were there, it was televised and at 10:30 a.m. the giant bronze doors were reopened to the public.

By late morning, the line to get in stretched nearly a block long.

Many, like the Rev. Kenneth Johnson, were conservative supporters of Scalia's positions in controversial cases.

"I just respect his pro-life, pro-family issues, and I really respect the man very much," he said.

Others were there simply to pay respect to Scalia's service. Mike Meachem, a retired retail manager, said he thought it important that he, as an African-American, be there to honor the justice.

"It's an important day, an important American that we've lost. While I may not have always agreed with his politics, it's something that you need to recognize," said Meachem.

Before dawn on Friday, well before any activities began, a lone bagpipe player stood across the street from the court. He didn't know Scalia, but said he felt drawn to recognize his service. By late morning, Benjamin Williams was still there.

"The division in this country has just gotten to be intolerable, on both sides ... and I think he was a steadying force, and I think he was just," he said.

Late Friday afternoon, President Obama and his wife, Michelle, arrived to pay their respects, too. On Saturday, Justice Scalia will be buried after a funeral Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a few miles north of the courtroom where he served for 30 years.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last Saturday, lay in repose at the Supreme Court today. First the other justices paid their respects, then the public and the president. While the battle over Scalia's replacement rages in the political world, the atmosphere of the court was somber, as NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAGPIPE MUSIC)

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Early this morning, a lone bagpipe player stood across the street from the Supreme Court. He didn't know Justice Scalia, he just felt drawn to recognize his service. Shortly before 9:30, two rows of former Scalia clerks formed down the courthouse steps. Soon the flag-draped casket was being carried up the marble steps between the two lines and into the court's Great Hall. Inside, the remaining eight justices lined up in their new order of seniority as they will be on the bench on Monday. Some looked stricken as the casket was placed on the catafalque first used after President Lincoln's assassination. Standing with the justices with their spouses, as well as the widow and son of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall. Chief Justice Roberts's wife, Jane, briefly brushed away tears. So too did some of the nearly 100 former law clerks. They would later stand in a rotating honor guard throughout the day and early evening.

Between the Great Hall columns, as if overseeing the ceremony, was a portrait of Scalia painted by Nelson Shanks. In it, Scalia is surrounded by images representing the great influences in his life - a framed wedding photo of his wife, Maureen, Webster's Dictionary, an image of Thomas Moore, and in the background, a framed certificate from the American Catholic Historical Society. Scalia's wife, nine children and most of the 28 grandchildren who called him Pop were there, too. The Reverend Paul Scalia, the justice's son and a Catholic priest, said traditional prayers.

PAUL SCALIA: God of faithfulness, in your wisdom, you have called your servant, Antonin, out of this world. May he rest in peace.

TOTENBERG: After the court and family members filed out of the hall, the court's personnel - the men and women who staff the institution - filed past the casket to pay their respects, some wearing rough work clothes, janitors and carpenters, others, in black suits and dresses. Some were red-eyed and brushed away tears. Some crossed themselves. This was technically a private ceremony open only to the justices, their families and court personnel. But it was televised, and at 10:30, the giant bronze doors were reopened to the public. By late morning, the line stretched nearly a block long. Many, like the Reverend Kenneth Johnson, were conservative supporters of Scalia's positions in controversial cases.

KENNETH JOHNSON: I just respect his pro-life and pro-family issues, and I really respect the man very much.

TOTENBERG: Others were there simply to pay respect to Scalia's service. Mike Meacham, a retired retail manager, said he thought it important that he as an African-American be there to honor the justice.

MIKE MEACHAM: It's an important thing, an important American that we've lost. While I may not have always agreed with his politics, it's something that you need to recognize.

TOTENBERG: By late morning, the bagpipe player, Benjamin Williams, was still there.

BENJAMIN WILLIAMS: The division in this country has just gotten to be intolerable on both sides, and I think he was a steadying force and I think he was just.

TOTENBERG: Late this afternoon, President and Mrs. Obama arrived to pay their respects, too. Tomorrow, Justice Scalia will be buried after a funeral Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.