It is a longtime, unspoken, unorganized tradition in Washington, D.C., that when anything is happening or has happened at the Supreme Court, crowds gather outside the marble-columned facade to demonstrate. Usually the gatherings are noisy. Advocacy and grievance groups with opposing points of view speak into bullhorns and hurl chants at each other — also seeking to attract the attention of the TV crews generally found to the right of the steps.
But this wasn’t the scene that began taking shape on Friday evening, Sept. 19. Somber, silent crowds of people of all ages and backgrounds — though predominantly white women — gathered on the broad sidewalk in front of the court to honor Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Ginsburg died at sundown on Friday at age 87, having waged a long battle with various types of cancer. The justice, who was of Jewish heritage, passed away at the start of Rosh Hashana, the first day of the Jewish New Year.
Best known for promoting equal treatment before the law regardless of gender, and for protecting affirmative action and abortion rights, Ginsburg was a stalwart advocate on the court for civil rights and liberal issues generally. She was a close friend — and the opera and theater buddy — of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016.
Mourners brought hundreds of bouquets of flowers, candles and stones (which Jewish mourners traditionally place on headstones). They wrote messages in chalk on the sidewalk and propped up hundreds of homemade signs honoring the justice, who had become a rock star-like figure as the “Notorious RBG.” Many read: “Rest In Peace RBG,” “Honor Her Forever,” “May Her Memory Be A Blessing To All” and “Equality, Respect, Dignity.” By Sunday, some of the signs had become more political, referring to the already hotly debated process for choosing her successor.
The late justice will lie in state at the Supreme Court on Wednesday, Sept. 23, and Thursday, Sept. 24, and at the Capitol on Friday, Sept. 25. “Ginsburg’s coffin will arrive at the court just before 9:30 a.m. Wednesday for a private ceremony for the late justice’s family, close friends and fellow justices,” according to a news release. Outdoor viewings will be open to the public during the three days.
A private internment is planned in the section of Arlington National Cemetery reserved for Supreme Court justices and their family members, including Ginsburg’s husband Martin, who died in 2010.