‘She will live on’: Thousands gather and unite in grief at Ruth Bader Ginsburg visitation

‘She will live on’: Thousands gather and unite in grief at Ruth Bader Ginsburg visitation


‘She will live on’: Thousands gather and unite in grief at Ruth Bader Ginsburg visitation

‘She will live on’: Thousands gather and unite in grief at Ruth Bader Ginsburg visitation

For a woman who helped so many other women in the US find their voices over the last 27 years, not one could be heard outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday as the black Cadillac hearse carrying Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s body rolled up to the curb along First Street in Washington.

The silence of the justice’s final ascent up those steps – through six columns of the more than 100 men and women who had clerked for her during her famed tenure on the court – was broken only by the shutters of cameras and the ambient hum of construction at the Capitol.

No music, no barking from a marching military color guard.

When the last pallbearer entered the court’s Great Hall, finally, a voice.

“Are you OK?” an older woman asked another woman, a stranger, standing in the mulch along the sidewalk of First Street opposite the Supreme Court.

Hundreds of people had gathered there in the morning to pay their respects even though the makeshift metal barriers blocking their entry wouldn’t open for another hour and a half to allow visitors to see Justice Ginsburg lying in repose under the portico at the top of the front steps.

“Yes, yes I’m fine,” the other woman replied. Wearing a pink Planned Parenthood Action Fund T-shirt, she reached under her plastic face shield and dabbed away a tear from her left cheek.

‘The hand of God’

By 10am, as Justice Ginsburg’s colleagues, their families, and former clerks sat through a ceremony in the Great Hall, hundreds of people were waiting in line outside. Dozens had set up lawn chairs around dawn. Some towards the front had camped out overnight.

They came from as far away as Naperville, Illinois, just outside Chicago, and as close as a ruby red rowhouse two blocks away in the elegant neighbourhood surrounding Capitol Hill, all with the same purpose: to celebrate the life and legacy of a 5ft 1in legal giant and, later in life, pop culture icon whose initials had become a three-letter symbol for the fight for women’s rights and the greater progressive movement in America.

“I felt – it sounds crazy – but almost like the hand of God saying, ‘You gotta go.’ I just felt very compelled. And so I’m here,” said Cecelia Ryan, a retired pediatric speech therapist from the greater Chicago area who drove the 12 hours to DC by herself on Tuesday.

From left, Jill Alexander of Rockville, Maryland, Yoni Boch of Washington, DC, and Cecelia Ryan of Naperville, Illinois, struck up an unexpected friendship outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday(Griffin Connolly/The Independent)

For many women outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday, they felt Justice Ginsburg’s death on a deeply personal level, even if they’d never actually met her.

Jennifer Pustizzi, an administrative law judge from Mullica Hill, New Jersey, drove down with one of her colleagues to witness the outpouring.

“Ginsburg paved the way for us, you know, personally and professionally,” Ms Pustizzi said, crediting the justice, the second woman ever confirmed to the court, for normalising the legal profession among women.

“Without people like her, I mean, I wouldn’t be a judge. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing,” Ms Pustizzi said.

Washington elite pay their respects

Chief Justice John Roberts honoured his late colleague as a “rock star” in a tribute speech shortly before she was laid in repose for public viewing.

“Justice Ginsburg’s life is one of the many versions of the American dream,” Justice Roberts told colleagues and family members gathered in the court’s Great Hall.

“Among the words that best describe Ruth: tough, brave, a fighter, a winner. But also thoughtful, careful, compassionate, honest. … 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,” he said.

The chief justice, who served alongside Justice Ginsburg for 15 years, noted her love of opera and her close friendship with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative bulwark with a diametrically opposite ideology from her.

Justice Ginsburg’s presence commanded those around her.

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

Former president Bill Clinton, who nominated Justice Ginsburg in 1993, and his wife, 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, visited the justice’s flag-draped casket on Wednesday morning.

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer of New York and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who both attended the same New York public school as Justice Ginsburg, James Madison High School in Brooklyn, crossed First Street towards the Supreme Court to say their final goodbyes.

Donald Trump plans to stop by the Capitol on Thursday, where she will be lying in state. Despite their myriad ideological differences, Mr Trump in recent days has lauded Justice Ginsburg an “amazing woman” who “led an amazing life”.

But he is not honouring her reported dying wish: that she not be replaced until after the inauguration of the next president in January 2021.

Among the leading candidates Mr Trump is considering are the notoriously conservative federal appeals court judges Barbara Lagoa of the 11th Circuit and Amy Coney Barrett of the Seventh Circuit.

Ms Barrett, an ardent Catholic whose appointment liberals fear would pose a substantial threat to women’s abortion rights, has visited Mr Trump at the White House twice so far this week.

‘Friends for life’

While debate has continued to rage this week on Capitol Hill surrounding Senate Republicans’ commitment to seating a replacement for Justice Ginsburg so close to the 2020 presidential election – an election for which millions of Americans have already cast early ballots – there was surprisingly little chatter of that political war across the street at the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

“I was here for Obama’s inauguration and for the March for Our Lives, and I was in London for the Women’s March. And I felt the camaraderie here – not on as big a scale because of social distance – as I did at Obama’s inauguration. And I’ve missed that so much,” said Jill Alexander of nearby Rockville, Maryland, whose husband clerked for Justice Ginsburg when she was on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals in the 1980s.

“I know that it’s a day of mourning, but it’s also a day of community. And I’m really, really happy about that,” Ms Alexander said.

For the first time since the spring, people in line for the casket-viewing found themselves talking and sharing their experiences with complete strangers – all masked, most spaced six or more feet apart.

After months of being cooped up in their homes with the same friends and family due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it was, strangely, a relief to be in unfamiliar company, with a deep appreciation for Justice Ginsburg’s 27 years on the court being the common social denominator.

“I came by myself, and I’ve made some fantastic friends,” Ms Ryan, the retired speech pathologist from Illinois, said, laughing deeply alongside Ms Alexander.

“I feel like we’re going to be friends for life now,” Ms Alexander chimed in.

“Wait, you guys didn’t know each other before?” asked an incredulous man they’d also befriended in line, 46-year-old Yoni Boch of Northwest DC.

“No,” Ms Alexander said. “It’s great to be a middle-aged woman. You talk to anyone. I knew it’d be nice people here today. And socially distanced people.”

The justice’s death was one of those moments of such gravity, several of the women in line said, that they’ll never forget where they were when they first heard of it.

Ms Ryan was having dinner with her husband on the deck at their farm in Wisconsin when he opened up a text message from their son-in-law bearing the news.

“I was just sick. Like it was a family loss,” Ms Ryan said. “I was heartbroken.”


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