Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a champion of gender equality, made history again on Friday as the first woman and first Jewish person to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol, in a ceremony marked by soaring music, tears and even push-ups.
Ginsburg, a stalwart liberal on the high court since 1993, died last Friday at age 87. Known simply as RBG, the first Jewish woman on the court became an icon to millions of Americans – especially young girls – after a long legal career fighting for equal rights.
“She changed the course of American law. And even when her views did not prevail, she still fought,” Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt said during a ceremony attended by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his wife, lawmakers from both parties and relatives and friends of Ginsburg.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the only woman to have held the speaker’s job, formally opened the ceremony at a lectern beside a large photo of Ginsburg in her judicial robes and a signature lace collar.
Ginsburg’s casket lay on a catafalque first built for President Abraham Lincoln.
Denyce Graves, a mezzo-soprano and one of the opera-loving justice’s favorite singers, performed two songs, as lawmakers brushed away tears.
Through her 80s, Ginsburg was known for her gym workouts. Her trainer, Bryant Johnson, did three push-ups in front of her casket as he paid his respects.
About 50 female members of Congress, mostly Democrats and a few Republicans, formed an honor guard on the Capitol steps as Ginsburg’s coffin was carried out of the building after the formal memorial ceremony in National Statuary Hall.
Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks was also mourned at the Capitol in 2005, but as a private citizen she lay “in honor.”
President Donald Trump’s Republicans – who narrowly control the Senate – have pledged to confirm his as-yet-unidentified conservative nominee to replace Ginsburg within a few weeks, angering Democrats who feel the nomination should be made by whoever wins the Nov. 3 election.
Biden, who presided over Ginsburg’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings as a senator in 1993, has called for Republicans to honor her last wish and wait to consider a nominee.
Senator Kamala Harris, Biden’s vice presidential running mate, joined other lawmakers at the ceremony. She told reporters the late justice “absolutely” cleared a path for her. “She broke so many barriers. And I know that she did it intentionally, knowing that people like me could follow,” Harris said.
The two top Republicans in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, did not attend the ceremony.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of admirers paid their respects outdoors and at a distance as Ginsburg’s coffin remained under the Supreme Court’s soaring portico during two days of public viewing.
Trump, who is seeking re-election on Nov. 3, was met with jeers of “Vote Him Out” by the crowd of mourners as he paid respects on Thursday.
The formal ceremony at the Capitol was limited to about 100 invited guests who wore masks and sat in chairs spaced apart because of concerns about the virus.