WASHINGTON – The warm temperatures forecast for this weekend were nowhere to be found Friday as mourners gathered outside the Supreme Court. On this cold, gray winter morning, the eyes of the crowd and the lenses of the cameras were focused on a flag-draped coffin slowly carried up the court’s steps.
Inside was the body of Justice Antonin Scalia, making his final trip to the court where he had served for 29 years. The justice died Saturday.
Capitol Hill Police shut down First Street between the Supreme Court and the Capitol. Dozens of Scalia’s former law clerks formed a corridor up the marble steps, and well-wishers formed a line that snaked around the building. Aside from the occasional camera click and distant siren, it was silent.
After the pallbearers, members of the Supreme Court Police, eventually made their way into the building, the public was permitted in a few people at a time.
The line went back a block. It included men and women of all ages and ethnicities.
At the front of the line were a couple of high school students and their teacher, Stephanie Suski, from Saint Mary’s School in Raleigh, N.C.
“I come here every year with students,” said Suski, who teaches an AP government class. “We were planning on visiting the Supreme Court, and then we heard he passed. Lucky timing on our part, although not so much for Scalia.”
Most of the people in line had high praise for Scalia. Some carried signs that spelled out their support. Others, like Chris Greer, did not have a sign, but still held the deceased justice in high regard.
“Scalia was always impressive, and always stood for his beliefs,” Greer said. “He was eloquent in his opinions, although they were usually in dissent, and I admired his consistency.”
Greer, who is a military judge in Washington, held up the conservative Scalia’s friendship with fellow justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a liberal, as an example to other increasingly partisan branches of government.
“There’s a lot people can learn from him,” Greer said. “He made his mark.”
Ivelisse Porroa is a UCLA student interning for Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. She said she has not always liked Scalia’s decisions, and yet she found herself in line on this cold Friday.
“Although our views are not aligned, I consider him a brilliant mind,” Porroa said. “I’m here to pay respects to one of the most prominent justices of our time.”
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama went to the court in the afternoon. They spent about 15 minutes privately with Scalia’s family, then came into the Great Hall and stood at the casket for about a minute. They viewed the portrait of Scalia painted by Nelson Shanks that was flanked by two wreaths.
Scalia, 79, was appointed to the court in 1986 by President Ronald Reagan.
Scalia’s funeral is scheduled for Saturday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of of the Immaculate Conception.
Friday began with a private service attended by family, the justices and other court officials.
Even those in line who disagreed with Scalia said they respected him. But another point of accord was the belief that Obama should at least make an attempt to fill Scalia’s seat.
Doug and Kim Aaron came from Manchester, Tenn., where Doug is an attorney, specifically to see Scalia in repose.
“We saw him speak at the University of Tennessee back in 2014,” he said. “After, while my wife and I were waiting for our ride, Scalia came out the back door and we stood there and shot the bull with him.”
The couple said they supported Scalia because he was a social conservative and a protector of individual liberties. But they also said that Obama has the right to pick Scalia’s replacement.
“If we could stop all this decisiveness and pick a justice, we should,” said Kim Aaron, who is a principal at the local middle school. “We are Americans first.”
Reach reporter Luke Torrance at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-408-1494. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter and Instagram
Download photos: scalia_repose.zip