Thousands expected to honor Ginsburg at Supreme Court

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Thousands of people are expected to pay their respects at the Supreme Court to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the women’s rights champion, leader of the court’s liberal bloc and feminist icon who died last week.

A brief, private ceremony honoring Ginsburg in the court’s Great Hall began the mourning period on Wednesday. The casket has been moved to the top of the Supreme Court’s marble steps so the public can pay their respects from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday.

Normally, members of the public would have been allowed to pass through the Great Hall. But because of the coronavirus pandemic the casket was moved outside so the public can pay their respects while following public health guidance.

The occasion brought together the remaining eight justices, all of them wearing masks, for the first time since the building was closed in March and they resorted to meetings by telephone.

Chief Justice John Roberts said the words that best describe the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg are “tough, brave, a fighter, a winner,” but also “thoughtful, careful, compassionate, honest.”

After the ceremony, Ginsburg’s flag-draped casket was placed at the top of the court’s front steps so that the public can pay their respects to the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court in line with public health guidance for the coronavirus pandemic.

“Her voice in court and in our conference room was soft, but when she spoke people listened,” Roberts said.

Ginsburg’s casket arrived at the court at 9:30 a.m. and was carried by Supreme Court police up the court steps into the court’s Great Hall, past her former law clerks who lined the steps.

Ginsburg will lie in repose for two days at the court where she served for 27 years and, before that, argued six cases for gender equality in the 1970s.

Nearly 500 members of the public had gathered to pay their respects Wednesday morning.

Since her death Friday evening, people have been leaving flowers, notes, placards and all manner of Ginsburg paraphernalia outside the court in tribute to the woman who became known in her final years as the “Notorious RBG.” Court workers cleared away the items and cleaned the court plaza and sidewalk in advance of Wednesday’s ceremony.

The casket is placed on the Lincoln Catafalque, the platform on which President Abraham Lincoln’s coffin rested in the Capitol rotunda in 1865, a 2016 portrait of Ginsburg by artist Constance P. Beaty displayed nearby.

Socially-distant chairs sit on a plaza outside the Supreme Court on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020, as preparations take place for a private ceremony and public viewing in remembrance of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

It’s unclear whether President Donald Trump would visit the court before he leaves town Wednesday afternoon, though he did pay respects when Justice John Paul Stevens died last year and President Barack Obama visited the court after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in 2016.

The entrance to the courtroom, along with Ginsburg’s chair and place on the bench next to Roberts, have been draped in black, a longstanding court custom. These visual signs of mourning, which in years past have reinforced the sense of loss, will largely go unseen this year. The court begins its new term Oct. 5, but the justices will not be in the courtroom and instead will hear arguments by phone.

On Friday, Ginsburg will lie in state at the Capitol, the first woman to do so and only the second Supreme Court justice after William Howard Taft. Taft had also been president. Rosa Parks, a private citizen as opposed to a government official, is the only woman who has lain in honor at the Capitol.

Ginsburg will be buried beside her husband, Martin, in a private ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery next week. Martin Ginsburg died in 2010. She is survived by a son and a daughter, four grandchildren, two step-grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

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