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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lies In State At The U.S. Capitol

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lay in state at the U.S. Capitol today. She was the first woman in American history given that honor. The memorial capped days of commemorations of her extraordinary life of public service. And tomorrow, President Trump will name his nominee to fill her seat on the Supreme Court. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us now.

And, Sue, can you describe what the ceremony was like?

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Well, it was a really short and simple ceremony. There was only about a hundred people in attendance, largely because of social distancing roles related to the pandemic. There was only two speakers. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered very few brief remarks. And they really just heard from Ruth Bader Ginsburg's rabbi from her local synagogue here in Washington, D.C. They played opera music, which was - she was known to be a great fan of. And former vice president and Democratic nominee Joe Biden and his wife and his running mate Kamala Harris all made a point to be there. It was mostly female lawmakers in attendance. And there was at least one moment of sort of levity at the end where a man was seen approaching the casket and dropped and did three pushups. And he was later identified as her longtime personal trainer, Bryant Johnson.

CORNISH: Can we talk about the significance of the superlative I mentioned, her being the first woman to lie in state?

DAVIS: Well, it's a nice coda to her life. She's the first woman in American history to be given the honor of lying in state. I would note she is not the first woman to be honored in the Capitol. That distinction goes to civil rights icon Rosa Parks who lied in honor in 2005. There's a distinction between - given to those who are private citizens and public or elected officials. She's also the first Jew to lie in state in the U.S. Capitol, another sort of historic capstone to her extraordinary historic life.

CORNISH: The backdrop to this, of course, is the partisan battle to name her replacement. Any hint of that discussion in today's ceremony?

DAVIS: There was a serious political undertone throughout the day to this ceremony, which was particularly notable and striking when you consider that these state ceremonies, lying in state ceremonies, historically tend to be very bipartisan affairs. From the moment of her arrival at the Capitol, she was greeted only by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader, minority leader Chuck Schumer. Generally speaking, they are often greeted by all of the congressional leadership. Republican leaders Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy were, of course, invited to today's ceremony, according to the speaker's office, but they ultimately did not attend. Neither office responded to my requests for comment on why they chose not to be there.

There's also sort of a political moment to where it was in the Capitol. The ceremony took place in Statuary Hall, which is on the House side of the Capitol, which falls fully under the purview of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Generally speaking, these state ceremonies have often happened in the Capitol Rotunda. But in order to do that, that is shared space with the Senate. She would have had to come to an agreement with Mitch McConnell to do it there, so a little bit of a pointed selection of the location.

You know, Audie, this all comes ahead of tomorrow where President Trump has said he's going to make his nominee known. We know two things for sure. It's going to be a woman, and it will be a conservative who will likely remake the sort of ideological makeup of the court. And Mitch McConnell is believed to have the votes he needs to get this confirmation through before Election Day.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Sue Davis.

Thank you.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.