President Donald Trump paid respects to late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Thursday morning, just two days before he announces his nominee to replace her on the high court. Her casket, carried Wednesday past her former law clerks who lined the courthouse steps, is again on public view Thursday outside the court.
The president and first lady Melania Trump — both wearing masks — stood silently at the top of the steps of the court and looked down at Ginsburg's flag-draped coffin, surrounded by white flowers. The death of the liberal-leaning justice has sparked a controversy over the balance of the court just weeks before the November presidential election.
Moments after he arrived, booing could be heard from the spectators who then briefly chanted, “Vote him out” and "Honor her wish," referring to Ginsburg's dying request not to have her seat filled until a new president is elected. Trump walked back into the court as the chants grew louder.
For a second day, thousands of people are expected to pay their respects to the women’s rights champion and leader of the court’s liberal bloc who died last week at age 87.
Thursday will be the final opportunity for members of the public to attend the public viewing, which will continue until 10 p.m.
Her body will lie in state at the Capitol on Friday, the first time a woman receives that distinction, and only the second time it will be bestowed on a Supreme Court justice. William Howard Taft, who had also served as president, was also recognized in such a manner. The body of Rosa Parks, a private citizen and not a government official, previously 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.
Her death brought together Wednesday the court’s remaining eight justices for the first time since the Supreme Court building was closed in March due to the coronavirus pandemic and they resorted to meetings by telephone.
During a private ceremony at the court, Ginsburg was remembered by grieving family, colleagues and friends as a prophet for justice who persevered against long odds to become an American icon.
Photos: Americans Mourn Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Washington already is consumed with talk of Ginsburg’s replacement, but Chief Justice John Roberts focused on his longtime colleague.
The best words to describe Ginsburg are “tough, brave, a fighter, a winner," Roberts said, but also “thoughtful, careful, compassionate, honest.”
During Wednesday's ceremony, Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt of Washington, D.C., compared Ginsburg to a prophet who imagined a world of greater equality and then worked to make it happen.
“This was Justice Ginsburg’s life’s work. To insist that the Constitution deliver on its promise, that we the people would include all the people. She carried out that work in every chapter of her life,” said Holtzblatt, whose husband, Ari, once worked as a law clerk to Ginsburg.
Outside, some people waiting Wednesday to pass by the casket said they had driven through the night. One of those in line, Heather Setzler, a physician assistant from Raleigh, North Carolina, said she named her two cats Hillary Ruth and Kiki, in honor of Ginsburg’s childhood nickname.
“There was just something about her. She was so diminutive yet turned out to be such a giant,” Setzler said, wearing a face mask adorned with small portraits of Ginsburg.
Rachel Linderman and Rychelle Weseman of Olean, New York, traveled to the nation’s capital because they said they wanted to be counted among Ginsburg’s followers and demonstrate how important her legacy is to Americans.
They said they were buoyed as they waited in line to be surrounded by people who felt the same way.
“I liked that I was with like-minded people," Linderman said Wednesday. “I feel energized.”
“Where we live, we’re usually in the minority,” Weseman said.
Prominent visitors Wednesday included Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, along with former President Bill Clinton, who appointed Ginsburg to the court in 1993, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom Ginsburg had hoped would name her successor.
Since Ginsburg’s death Friday evening, people have been leaving flowers, notes, placards and all manner of Ginsburg paraphernalia outside the court in tribute. Court workers cleared away the items and cleaned the court plaza and sidewalk in advance of Wednesday’s ceremony.
Inside, 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.
Ginsburg’s death has added another layer of tumult to an already chaotic election year. Trump and Senate Republicans are plowing ahead with plans to have a new justice on the bench, perhaps before the Nov. 3 election.
Only Chief Justice Roger Taney, who died in October 1864, died closer to a presidential election. Lincoln waited until December to nominate his replacement, Salmon Chase, who was confirmed the same day.
When Scalia, Ginsburg's closest friend on the court, died unexpectedly in 2016, Republicans refused to act on President Barack Obama's high-court nomination of Judge Merrick Garland.