Gins­burg re­mem­bered at court as U.S. icon and a prophet for jus­tice

Thou­sands ex­pected to pay re­spects as cas­ket is placed in pub­lic view


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 hon­our her Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day.

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.

Thou­sands of peo­ple were ex­pected to pay their re­spects to the women’s rights cham­pion and leader of the court’s lib­eral bloc.

Her cas­ket, car­ried in­side past her for­mer law clerks who lined the court­house steps, is to be on pub­lic view un­til 10 p.m. Wed­nes­day and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thurs­day.

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.

Rabbi Lau­ren Holtzblatt of Wash­ing­ton 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 to pass by the cas­ket said they had driven through the night. One of those in line, Heather Set­zler, a physi­cian as­sis­tant from Raleigh, N.C., said she named her two cats Hillary Ruth and Kiki, in hon­our 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, N.Y., trav­elled 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 like­minded peo­ple,” Lin­der­man said. “I feel en­er­gized.”

“Where we live, we’re usu­ally in the mi­nor­ity,” We­se­man said.

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.


Mem­bers of CASA, an ad­vo­cacy or­ga­ni­za­tion for Latino and im­mi­grant peo­ple, hold up white roses in hon­our of Jus­tice Ruth Bader Gins­burg at the U.S. Supreme Court Wed­nes­day.

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