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Ruth Bader Ginsburg Honored As The First Woman To Lie In State


Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is lying in state at the U.S. Capitol today. She is the first woman in American history to be given that honor. This service caps days of commemorations of her extraordinary life of public service. Her casket was carried into Statuary Hall by an honor guard.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Forward. March. Hut. Hut. Hut.

KING: Singer Denyce Graves then sang the song "Deep River."


DENYCE GRAVES: (Singing) I wanna cross over into campground.

KING: NPR's Susan Davis was watching the ceremony, and she's with me now. Hi, Sue.


KING: What was it like this morning?

DAVIS: It was a really simple ceremony. Some of it was a sign of the times. COVID has required social distancing and masks inside the Capitol. So it was relatively sparsely attended, about 100 or so people. There were only a few speakers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave brief remarks and then Ruth Bader Ginsburg's rabbi from her synagogue here in Washington, D.C., spoke. As you heard, there was opera music as sort of a tribute to one of her passions that she shared with her - former late Justice Antonin Scalia. Vice presidential - or excuse me - Democratic presidential nominee former Vice President Joe Biden was there, as was his running mate, Kamala Harris. Notable that it was mostly attended by female lawmakers. And there was at least one moment of levity towards the end where if you were watching it, there was a man who approached her casket and dropped and did three pushups. And that was her personal trainer Bryant Johnson, who spent years and all through many of her cancer treatments keeping her as fit as possible.

KING: Yeah. That was a lovely moment - paid tribute to her sense of humor, too. Much has been made of the fact that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is lying in state. What is the significance of this?

DAVIS: Well, it's sort of a beautiful coda to her life, where so much of it was about advancing women's rights, to be the first woman to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol. She is not the first woman to be honored in the U.S. Capitol. Back in 2005, civil rights icon Rosa Parks similarly - it was not considered lying in state. They consider it lying in honor, which is a distinction between private citizens and elected or public officials. Also worth noting - that she's the first Jew to lie in state in American history, so a nice capstone to what was a very historic life.

KING: Now, this ceremony today is happening in the middle of what has become a very partisan battle to name her replacement. Was there any sense of that in today's proceeding?

DAVIS: There was throughout it. And to consider that these state ceremonies are traditionally very bipartisan affairs and this was not that, she was greeted only by the Democratic leaders as her casket arrived. The top Republicans, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, did not attend, although they were invited. They did not comment as to why they did not attend. This is all coming as we are preparing for President Trump to name his nominee to fill her seat tomorrow in what's expected to be a uniquely partisan and confrontational confirmation battle ahead of the election.

KING: NPR's Susan Davis. Thanks so much for this, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome.


GRAVES: (Singing) America, America, I give my best to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.