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Thousands Attend Funeral for Justice Scalia

  • VOA News

The procession for the funeral mass for the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Feb. 20, 2016.

The procession for the funeral mass for the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Feb. 20, 2016.

Mourners attended a Roman Catholic funeral Mass Saturday for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, lauded as a giant of the law and the most influential justice of his era.

The life of Scalia, who was deeply religious, was honored in the country’s largest Roman Catholic church, the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, where Pope Francis had celebrated a Mass in September.

Vice President Joe Biden led a distinguished group of officials, dignitaries, family and friends in attending the service for Scalia, who died one week ago at age 79.

Scalia's eight fellow justices – including Clarence Thomas, who offered a Bible reading – several cabinet secretaries and many members of Congress were in attendance, as was former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Family members follow behind the casket of the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia as they arrive for a funeral Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Feb. 20, 2016.

Family members follow behind the casket of the late Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia as they arrive for a funeral Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Feb. 20, 2016.

One of the late justice's nine children, Paul Scalia, a Roman Catholic priest, delivered a homily to the congregation during the service. Four other sons served as pallbearers.

Paul Scalia recalled his father's devotion to God and country. He told the audience how his father reacted once after accidentally standing in his son's confessional line.

"Like heck if I'm confessing to you,'' Paul Scalia fondly remembered his father saying.

Public mourning

Scalia's coffin lay in repose throughout the day and evening Friday at the Supreme Court, near the U.S. Capitol, as lines of mourners filed past.

President Barack Obama and first lady Michele Obama offered their condolences Friday afternoon.

Scalia was a member of the nation's highest court for more than 29 years.

He was known as a leading proponent of conservative policies and an "originalist," meaning that he was guided in his intepretation of the U.S. Constitution by what the country's founders in the 18th century had in mind when they wrote the national charter.

President Barack Obama, second from left, and first lady Michelle Obama, second from right, pay their respects at the casket of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in the Supreme Court's Great Hall in Washington, Feb. 19, 2016.

President Barack Obama, second from left, and first lady Michelle Obama, second from right, pay their respects at the casket of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in the Supreme Court's Great Hall in Washington, Feb. 19, 2016.

Such views often contrast with what is known as a "liberal" view of the court's decisions, held by those who believe the Constitution, written more than 200 years ago, should be interpreted in terms of its meaning for the government and society of today.

The judge's sudden death left the Supreme Court with only eight judges, which could affect the court's actions until a ninth justice is nominated by the president and approved by the Senate.

Court review

With only eight sitting judges, an even 4-4 vote among them would mean the Supreme Court could take no action to review lower-court decisions – either upholding or overturning them. Many lower-court actions are brought before the Supreme Court on appeal, but the court chooses which cases it will review.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas reads a passage from the New Testament during the funeral mass for Antonin Scalia at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Feb. 20, 2016.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas reads a passage from the New Testament during the funeral mass for Antonin Scalia at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Feb. 20, 2016.

Since this is a presidential election year, many members of the opposition Republican party have said the responsibility of choosing a new Supreme Court justice should be made by the next president, whoever that may be, who will succeed Obama in 11 months' time.

President Obama, however, said it is his constitutional responsibility to act more promptly; most members of his Democratic Party and some Republicans agree that a Supreme Court nomination should not be postponed until next year.

Obama has said he will name his choice for the court in the coming days or weeks.

WATCH: Public pays respects to Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

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