Supreme Court chief justice pays tribute to 'tough, brave' Ginsburg at ceremony

Thousands of people are expected to pay their respects at the Supreme Court to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was hailed by Chief Justice John Roberts as a trailblazing jurist who "will live on in what she did to improve the law."

Following 2 days at Supreme Court, Ginsburg to be 1st woman to lie in state at the Capitol

U.S. chief justice pays tribute to late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

2 years ago
Duration 4:02
U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts reflected on the life of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died Friday, as 'one of the many versions of the American dream.'

Chief Justice John Roberts says the words that best describe the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg are "tough, brave, a fighter, a winner" but also "thoughtful, careful, compassionate, honest."

Roberts spoke Wednesday during a private ceremony in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court. After the ceremony, Ginsburg's flag-draped casket was placed at the top of the court's front steps so that the public can pay their respects to the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court in line with public health guidance for the coronavirus pandemic.

Thousands of people are expected to pay their respects throughout the day to the women's rights champion, leader of the court's liberal bloc and feminist icon who died last week at 87.

"Her voice in court and in our conference room was soft, but when she spoke people listened," Roberts said.

Her 483 opinions, he said, were written "with the unaffected grace of precision."

"Of course she will live on in what she did to improve the law and the lives of all of us, and yet still Ruth is gone, and we grieve."

Hundreds lined up to pay their respects to the second female Supreme Court justice, who served on the top court for 27 years. (Alex Brandon/AFP/Getty Images)

Ginsburg's flag-draped casket arrived at the court at 9:30 a.m. and was carried into the court's Great Hall, past her former law clerks who lined the steps.

Inside, the court's remaining eight justices, all of them wearing masks, were together for the first time since the building was closed in March and they resorted to meetings by telephone. Because of the pandemic, however, chairs for the justices were spaced apart.

Ginsburg will lie in repose for two days at the court where she served for 27 years and, before that, argued six cases for gender equality in the 1970s. Ginsburg's casket will be on public view from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday.

Nearly 500 members of the public had gathered to pay their respects Wednesday morning.

Heather Setzler, a physician's assistant from Raleigh, N.C., started her drive to Washington at 1 a.m. to be at the court.

"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.

Trump expected to pay respects

Since her death Friday evening, people have been leaving flowers, notes, placards and all manner of Ginsburg paraphernalia outside the court in tribute to the woman who became known in her final years as the "Notorious RBG," a play on the Notorious B.I.G. nickname of Brooklyn rapper Biggie Smalls. Court workers cleared away the items and cleaned the court plaza and sidewalk in advance of Wednesday's ceremony.

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.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, who nominated Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court in 1993, stands beside her flag-draped casket Wednesday in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The court begins its new term Oct. 5, but the justices will not be in the courtroom and instead will hear arguments by phone.

The White House said U.S. President Donald Trump will pay his respects to Ginsburg on Thursday at the Supreme Court.

WATCH l On the life and legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg dead at 87

2 years ago
Duration 3:05
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died Friday of complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer, the court said in a statement. The iconic jurist was renowned for defending rights of women and minorities while serving on the top court for 27 years.

On Friday, Ginsburg will lie in state at the Capitol, the first woman to do so and only the second Supreme Court justice after William Howard Taft. Taft had also been president. Rosa Parks, a private citizen as opposed to a government official, is the only woman who has lain in honour 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.

Death reshapes election race

Ginsburg's death from cancer at age 87 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.

Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, John Roberts is shown, with Justice Elena Kagan in the background, near the flag-draped casket of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Supreme Court on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. (Andrew Harnik/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

After Antonin Scalia, Ginsburg's closest friend on the court, died unexpectedly in 2016, Republicans refused to act on then President Barack Obama's high-court nomination of Judge Merrick Garland.


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