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Obamas Pay Respects to US High Court's Scalia

  • Aru Pande

The body of Justice Antonin Scalia arrives at the Supreme Court in Washington, Feb. 19, 2016. Thousands of mourners will pay their respects to him Friday in the court building's Great Hall.

The body of Justice Antonin Scalia arrives at the Supreme Court in Washington, Feb. 19, 2016. Thousands of mourners will pay their respects to him Friday in the court building's Great Hall.

President Barack Obama paid respects Friday to Antonin Scalia as the justice's body lay in repose at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington.

The president and first lady Michelle Obama joined the hundreds of others who filed through the high court's Great Hall to honor the conservative justice, who died February 13 at age 79.

"This is an opportunity for the president to both pay his personal respects to those who loved Justice Scalia but also pay tribute to the outsized impact that he had on our country and our legal system," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.

Obama and the first lady, both dressed in black, stood by the casket and bowed their heads for a few moments before walking to a portrait of the late justice, where they stood briefly and exchanged a few words.

The White House later said that while they were at the Supreme Court, the president and first lady met privately with some members of Scalia’s family, where they “extended their personal condolences on behalf of the nation, and expressed gratitude for Justice Scalia’s decades of public service.”

Hours after reports of Scalia's death last Saturday, Obama honored the longest-serving justice in brief remarks.

"He influenced a generation of judges, lawyers and students, and profoundly shaped the legal landscape," Obama said of Scalia. "He will no doubt be remembered as one of the most consequential judges and thinkers to serve on the Supreme Court."

Next justice?

Obama has begun the process of naming Scalia's successor.

Earnest told reporters the president called Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley, as well as Democratic Senators Harry Reid and Patrick Leahy, within the last day.

"There was an opportunity for the president to make clear that he is going to nominate someone," the White House spokesman said. "The president made clear that he is committed to consulting with Congress as he decides who that nominee should be, and the president made clear that he is doing all of this because he has the constitutional responsibility to do so."

Scalia was part of a 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, and his death set the stage for a political showdown between Obama, a Democrat, and the Republican-controlled Senate, which is threatening to block any nominee put forward by the president to fill the court vacancy.

Some Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader McConnell, say the next president, who will take office in January 2017, should name someone to fill Scalia's seat, not Obama.

Earnest on Friday repeated the administration's call for the Senate to fulfill its constitutional responsibility in considering a new justice.

WATCH: Mourners pay their respects

Funeral plans

Scalia's public viewing Friday was scheduled to last until 8 p.m. EST (0100 GMT Saturday).

Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, are scheduled to attend Scalia's funeral Mass on Saturday, which will be held at 11 a.m. EST (1600 GMT) at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. Burial plans have not been released.

A woman cries as friends and staff of the Supreme Court attend a private ceremony in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court where late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia lies in repose, Feb. 19, 2016, in Washington.

A woman cries as friends and staff of the Supreme Court attend a private ceremony in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court where late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia lies in repose, Feb. 19, 2016, in Washington.

Family

Scalia, a staunch conservative, was appointed to the court by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1986. He was the only child of an immigrant father and an Italian-American mother and was raised in a multiethnic neighborhood of Queens in New York City.

He is survived by his wife, Maureen, nine children and 28 grandchildren.

One of his sons, a priest, led a brief religious ceremony before the public was allowed into the court building for the viewing.

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