The US is set to begin three days of tributes to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, when the public will get the chance to pay their respects under the monumental Corinthian columns atop the court’s front steps.
Ginsburg, who over the course of her long legal career championed gender equality and other liberal causes, in recent years became something of a pop icon for the American left.
Crowds of mourners packed the court’s steps after her death on Friday at age 87, leaving flowers and signs.
After two days of public viewing at the court, Ginsburg will on Friday become the first woman to lie in state in the US Capitol when her casket is placed in National Statuary Hall.
Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks was also mourned at the Capitol in a similar ceremony in 2005, but as someone who did not hold government or military office, she lay “in honour,” not “in state.”
Both historic events for Ginsburg, however, come with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic.
US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that, due to the pandemic, a formal ceremony to be held on Friday morning will be limited to invited guests only.
At the courthouse, which remains closed to the public due to the pandemic, the justice will lie in repose under the portico outdoors to allow for public viewing.
Officials said social distancing and face coverings will be required to participate to guard against the spread of the virus. Flowers and other offerings will be forbidden on the court’s plaza or its great flight of steps.
Though the building is closed, Ginsburg’s courtroom chair and the bench in front of it have been draped with black wool crepe to mark the occasion, a tradition that dates back at least to 1873. A black drape has also been hung over the courtroom doors.
Before the public viewing begins outside, a ceremony is planned for inside the court’s Great Hall, limited to friends and family. While Ginsburg’s fellow justices remain inside, her former law clerks will line the front steps, serving as honorary pallbearers, as the casket arrives. The court’s police officers will serve as pallbearers.
The coffin will be moved on to the Lincoln catafalque, a pine board platform draped in black cloth that was used to support President Abraham Lincoln’s coffin when he lay in state in the Capitol’s Rotunda after his assassination in 1865. The catafalque was loaned to the court by the US Congress for the ceremony.
Public viewing starts at 11am and runs until 10pm on Wednesday and between 9am until 10pm on Thursday. A private interment service is planned for next week at Arlington National Cemetery. Ginsburg’s husband, Martin Ginsburg, was buried there in 2010.