They watched as a black hearse arrived at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, and from it emerged Ginsburg’s casket draped in an American flag. It was carried slowly up the steps, between dozens of the justice’s former law clerks, and inside the court for a private ceremony.
Soon after, the casket reemerged, positioned between the towering marble columns and behind a row of white hydrangeas. At the bottom of the steps, members of the public were permitted to pass by, pausing for a moment to take photos, bow their heads or say a prayer.
The first to do so were Mary and Vicki Migues-Jordan, who’d been at the Court since 9:45 p.m. Tuesday night. They’d driven in from Maryland and planned to stay at a hotel, but when they went to the court to scope out where they would wait, they realized they had the chance to be first in line. “We looked at each other and said, ‘It’s not that cold,” said Mary, 55.
“We would do it for the pope, but other than that, I can’t imagine spending the night on the street for anyone else,” Vicki said.
They opened their camp chairs, wrapped themselves in blankets, and settled in for hours of little sleep and long talks about what this woman had meant to them.
“When I first saw her, I remember thinking, ‘they’re going to chew her up and spit her out,’” Mary said. “But she was this tiny little thing who took over a room when she walked in.”
As an attorney, Mary tried to emulate Ginsburg’s ability to make every word count. She had a Ginsburg action figure and a sweatshirt with her face on it. But to her, there was so much more to the Justice than the “notorious” version that decorated totebags. The couple was reminded of that this summer, when the Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from discrimination based on sex. Their own son didn’t understand what the big deal was.
“The big deal is yesterday I could have been fired because of who I love, and it’s 2020,” Mary said.
Every time a car passed over a heavy metal plate in the road, the women were jolted awake. They could have easily left and come back in the morning. Instead they used their hotel for bathroom breaks only, and shared the key with the other two people determined to stay the night: Doug Smith, 53, and his daughter, a 21-year-old college senior. They’d driven four hours from Pittsburgh, Pa. to arrive at 10 p.m.
“When I was a younger man, I waited out all night for concert tickets,” Smith said. “And this woman is a definition of a rock star. So yeah, waiting out all night for her? I can do that.”
As soon as he’d seen the Supreme Court’s announcement about the week’s memorial services, Smith had texted his wife and daughters: “I’m going to D.C. Does anyone want to go with me?”
“The impact she’s had on my wife and my daughters, there’s just no way to envision what their lives would be like without the work of Justice Ginsburg,” Smith said. “I could not not be here.”
His older daughter, who was doing homework at the time, immediately responded that she would go with him, even though her college prohibited her from leaving her campus due to covid-19 restrictions. She declined to give her name because if her university found out she was off campus, she could lose her housing.
“I knew if it came down to it, I could stare down the university and say, ‘This is where my values stand,’” she said.
The higher the sun rose, the longer the line grew. By the time the casket arrived, the road between the Court and the Library of Congress was filled with hundreds, and by noon, the line stretched to the library’s parking lot.
Although justices usually “lie in repose” at the Court for a single day, Ginsburg’s casket will be available for the public to view from a distance for two 11-hour stints on Wednesday and Thursday.
On Friday, the casket will be taken across the street to the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall, where an invite-only memorial will be held and where she will “lie in state” atop the catafalque, built for President Abraham Lincoln’s casket in 1865. She will be the first woman in history to receive the honor. (Civil rights icon Rosa Parks was given a “lying in honor” tribute in Statuary Hall in 2005.) No Supreme Court justice has done the same since president-turned-chief justice William Howard Taft in 1930.
All week, babies in strollers, girls in pigtails and women in tears have been appearing at the court to mourn their legal heroine. They brought so many daisies, roses and sunflowers that huge swaths of sidewalks were barely visible. They dressed their dogs in lace collars. They left photos of themselves on their wedding days, wives kissing wives.
The posters they placed near the steps were sharpied with colorful declarations: “Rest in power;” “It’s up to us now;” “Little woman, big ovaries.” One poster bore a message to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)…