Thomas Randall braved bitter cold temperatures and a long line Friday to make his way into the gilded lobby of the U.S. Supreme Court and pay his respects to a fellow lawyer with whom he agreed on very little.
Randall was one of hundreds of Americans who stood in a block-long line, waiting to climb the steps and pass between towering marble columns into the building where Justice Antonin Scalia lay in repose. The flag-draped casket containing the body of the 79-year-old justice rested atop the Lincoln Catafalque in the Great Hall, just outside the venerable courtroom where Scalia forged his sometimes controversial reputation as one of the most influential conservatives in the history of the high court.
“I’m a staunch liberal and I disagreed with Scalia on virtually everything, but it does not detract from his impact on the court,” Randall told FoxNews.com. “It is a shame people are trying to politicize his death on the day of his ceremony. Civil disagreement should never equate to hatred.”
By 10 a.m., the line to file past Scalia’s body wrapped around the block of First Street and East Capitol Street. As Randall spoke, and noted that Scalia himself had never allowed his conservative beliefs to affect personal friendships with the court’s liberal justices, others in line nodded in agreement. The sentiment provided a respite from a polarizing presidential campaign, the political gridlock just across the street in the United States Capitol and the debate over filling Scalia’s seat that flared as soon as word got out on Saturday that he had been found dead in his bed at a Texas ranch where he was vacationing.
“He’s a hero, had a good sense of humor, and was a brilliant scholar."
“He is the example of bipartisanship our nation needs,” said Francis Crotti, a Baltimore native now living in Washington, to honor the son of Italian immigrants known for his sharp dissents and fealty to the literal Constitution.
Just below the steps leading into the building, Scalia’s fans created a makeshift memorial that included two jars of applesauce, a pile of fortune cookies and paper bags, invocations of two of Scalia’s recent and most stinging dissenting opinions. Scalia called a majority ruling upholding ObamaCare “pure applesauce,” and likened his fellow justices’ gay marriage opinion to the "mystical aphorisms of the fortune cookie." Of the decision legalizing gay marriage, Scalia wrote that he would “hide my head in a bag” if he’d ever joined such an opinion.
Even as the line stretched around First and East Capitol streets, a somber silence was underscored by the sound of the American Flag’s ropes clinging against the flagpole. The half-staffed flag drooped down in front of the building, despite the wind, as though the flag itself was paying tribute to Justice Scalia.
“Moments like these you realize just how many lives he touched,” said Maria Calderon, a New Yorker who was visiting Washington with her husband. Seeing the well-wishers and knowing Scalia grew up in Queens gave her a warm feeling despite the blustery temperatures in the 30s.
Mike Judge, who waited in line with his wife Anne and their children, said the trip was part of a homeschool civics lesson on the Supreme Court.
“I want them to have an appreciation for Justice Scalia and to have an appreciation for the court,” Judge said. “Scalia was a man of honor.”
Vince McLaughlin, a Philadelphia native, dabbed at tears as he reflected on Scalia’s life and legal influence.
“He’s a hero, had a good sense of humor, and was a brilliant scholar,” he said. “A big loss to the Court.”
As the public began entering the building shortly after 10:30am, visitors took at the entrance of the Supreme Court holding signs in support of Scalia and his family. One sign thanked Scalia for his service to the nation. Another read “God Bless the USA and the Scalia family.”
When people trickled into the Grand Hall, many took a moment and stood in front of the casket, offering a moment of remembrance and appreciation for the life of Justice Scalia. Some made the sign of the cross while others bowed their heads and closed their eyes.
President Obama, accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama, paid tribute to the late justice Friday. He also took a moment of silence and bowed his head over Scalia's casket.
Families exemplified the magnitude of the emotion this morning by walking down in almost of a consoling embrace. Some wiped tears away as they exited the Hall and walked down the front steps.
More than 5,500 people had passed by his casket as of late Friday. The wait time at one point was up to 3 1/2 hours.
His funeral will be on Saturday at 11 a.m.