WASHINGTON – With crowds of admirers swelling outside, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was remembered Wednesday at the court by grieving family, colleagues and friends as a prophet for justice who persevered against long odds to become an American icon.
The court’s eight justices, masked along with everyone else because of the coronavirus pandemic, gathered for the first time in more than six months for the ceremony to mark Ginsburg’s death from cancer last week at age 87 after 27 years on the court.
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.”
The woman who late in life became known in admiration as the Notorious RBG “wanted to be an opera virtuoso, but became a rock star instead,” Roberts said. Ginsburg’s two children, Jane and James, and other family members sat on one side of the casket, across from the justices.
With her portrait on display nearby, Ginsburg's flag-draped casket sat in the court's Great Hall for the private service before it was moved outside so the public could honor her. Health precautions because of the pandemic led the court to limit the number of people inside the building, which has been closed to the public since March.
Through the day, thousands of people paid their respects to the women’s rights champion and leader of the court’s liberal bloc. As darkness fell, the line stretched nearly half a mile from the court as people filed past. The casket was to be on public view until 10 p.m. Wednesday and from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday.
Inside earlier, the members of the court were arrayed in their seats in order of seniority, now changed by Ginsburg's death so that Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer flanked Roberts. Breyer took the spot Ginsburg held when the court last gathered for a justice's memorial, in 2019 following the death of John Paul Stevens.