Solemnity and remembrance in the Great Hall

Blog colleague Mark Walsh contributed to this report.


With his sixth child, the Rev. Paul Scalia, reciting a brief litany of prayer and Bible passages, the late Justice Antonin Scalia on Friday morning lay in a flag-draped coffin, the opening of the last ceremonial tributes before he is buried Saturday afternoon.  Before public viewers were admitted, there was a half-hour service in the Court’s Great Hall for the Court’s family, in a carefully choreographed ritual of solemnity and respect.

In one of the prayers for his father, the priest said: “God of faithfulness, in your wisdom you have called your servant Antonin out of this world.  Release him from the bonds of sin, and welcome him into your presence so that he may enjoy eternal life and peace.”

With the Justice’s widow, Maureen, and their eight other children seated to the right of the coffin as it rested on the Lincoln catafalque, with a legion of grandchildren standing behind them, the eight sitting Justices entered the Hall, and lined up on the other side.  In a gesture suggesting the continuity of the Court, those eight stood in the new order of seniority they will occupy on the bench and in public assemblies.  With the death of the Court’s senior Associate Justice, all of the members of the Court except Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., have switched places to opposite sides.

(Photo by Mark Walsh)

The Justices stood silently, and the five Roman Catholics among them crossed themselves at the lead of Rev. Scalia at the end of the religious rituals, as the three Jewish Justices stood quietly.  After fifteen minutes, the Justices filed out, some pausing to examine the 2007 portrait of a slightly smiling Scalia, painted by Nelson Shanks.  Shown on the desk to Scalia’s right is a framed wedding photograph of his wife, an image of Sir Thomas More based on the portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, a dictionary, and a copy of The Federalist Papers.  Partly visible on the wall behind him is a document from the American Catholic Historical Society.   (Sir Thomas is revered by Catholics for his defense of the sacraments against Lutheranism, and by lawyers and judges as the first lay person to rise to the England’s highest legal office at the time, Lord Chancellor.)

The Justices were joined by Cissy Marshall, the late Justice Thurgood Marshall’s widow, and by the wives of the Chief Justice and Justices Breyer, Kennedy, and Thomas.  At one point in the service, Justice Thomas reached back to clasp the hand of his wife, Virginia.   Eight of the Court’s police officers carried the coffin into the Great Hall, and an honor guard of Court’s police officers and eight of Scalia’s former law clerks serving as honorary pallbearers stood nearby in gestures of respect.  Four former clerks entered the Hall, and took up thirty-minute vigils next to the catafalque. They were his clerks in 1998: Amy Barrett, Kevin Huff, Ara Lovitt, and Stephen Miller.  Other present and former clerks will continue half-hour shifts in a vigil that will continue until the public viewing ends at 8 p.m. Friday.

After all of the notables had filed out, more than two hundred Court employees, from the highest-ranking to the custodial staff, passed by, and left the Hall to remain silent except for the shuffling of visitors’ feet and the changing of members of the clerks’ vigil.

Later in the day, President Obama was expected to go to the Court to join briefly in the remembrance.


Posted in: Featured, What's Happening Now, Justice Scalia passes away