Ruth Bader Ginsburg makes history at Capitol, amid turmoil
WASHINGTON – the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lay in state Friday at the U.S. Capitol, the first woman ever so honored, making history as she had throughout her incredible life with an intensifying election-year battle swirling in the background.
The flag-cloaked casket of Ginsburg, who passed last week at 87, brought in members of Congress, elite military officials, and friends and family to the Capitol’s grand Statuary Hall. All who visited hoped to pay respect to the cultural icon who changed American law and perceptions of women in American society.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his wife joined other guests. His vice presidential running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris said that “RBG,” as she was popularly, paved a path for women in public life.
“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,” Harris told press at the Capitol. “And I know that she did it intentionally knowing that people like me could follow.”
Joe Biden, who served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Ginsburg was confirmed 27 years ago said he was brought back to when he first met her back then, “Wonderful memories,” he said.
Mourners gathered to honor Ginsburg under social distancing restrictions and with the nation in a state of political turmoil.
President Donald Trump is set to announce a conservative nominee to replace Ginsburg on Saturday, mere weeks before the November election. White House officials have suggested to congressional Republicans and allies that the nominee will be Indiana’s Amy Coney Barrett. They continue to maintain a semblance of suspense to let Trump announce her.
Trump’s third justice, if confirmed, Barrett would certainly move the court rightward on health care, abortion, and other divisive issues. A Senate confirmation vote should be expected by late October.
It was with “profound sorrow” that she welcomed Ginsburg and opened the private service said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer stood beneath gray skies as Ginsburg’s casket made the brief procession from the courthouse steps where it had been on display for several days.
The court and the Capitol face one another across the street, separate but supposedly equal branches of government, maintaining checks on one another as well as on the White House. An honor guard carried Ginsberg’s casket inside.
Election politics have cast a shadow over the commemorations this week. Absent after receiving an invitation to Friday’s service was Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is leading the push to confirm President Trump’s nominee while early voting is underway. No justice has ever been confirmed so close to a presidential election.
President Trump and the first lady paid their respects on Thursday as thousands of people waited outside. The crowd booed and chanted “vote him out” as the president stood silently near Ginsburg’s casket at the top of the courthouse steps.
But Friday’s ceremony focused on Ginsburg’s life and work rather than the current political climate. Ginsburg was the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court and the first Jewish person to ever lie in state at the Capitol.
Ginsburg was remembered as an extremely brilliant Columbia graduate who was passed over for jobs at a time when few women became lawyers, only to reshape the nation’s laws protecting women’s rights and equality through her long and storied career.
“Today, she makes history again,” the rabbi said.
Ginsburg will be buried next week in Arlington National Cemetery beside her husband who died in 2010.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper and the nation’s top military officers from the joint chiefs of staff paid their respects.
The honor of lying in state has been accorded less than three dozen times. It is mostly reserved for presidents, vice presidents, and members of Congress. Rep. John Lewis, civil rights icon, was the most recent following his recent passing in July.