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Washington Pauses to Remember Scalia

Scalia's casket is carried into the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as his family follows. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Scalia's casket is carried into the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as his family follows. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death was largely clouded by the politics of nominating his replacement, but for a few short hours on Saturday official Washington stopped to remember the man and not the seat he has left vacant on the court.

Scalia’s funeral, a traditional Catholic Mass held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, was attended by politicians and judges but it was not a reflection of either of those worlds. It was a religious event meant to bless Scalia the Catholic and send him prayers in hopes that he would be welcomed into heaven, the church’s view of the afterlife for its members who have been absolved of their sins. 

“In the past week many recounted what dad did for them, but today we recount what God did for Dad,” said the Rev. Paul D. Scalia, the son of the late justice who led the Mass. 

The funeral service began shortly after 11 a.m., when church bells greeted the hearse bearing Scalia’s casket. Around the same time, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.,representing the White House, and his wife, Jill, entered from the back of the church and greeted the justices and lawmakers seated in the front few rows of folding chairs. Pews had been removed from the front half of the basilica for a renovation that will decorate the inner dome in mosaic. 

Pallbearers escorted the casket, draped in a cream-colored pall, to the front of the basilica, where it remained throughout two-hour service. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, welcomed the Rev. Scalia to lead the “simple, family parish Mass” that his family desired for the funeral. That line drew laughter from the crowd, which was filled with many people whom the Scalia family had probably never met. 

Biden, the current eight Supreme Court justices, and Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and John Cornyn, R-Texas, were among the Washington elite seated at the front of the basilica, in a section adjacent to the one filled with Scalia’s extended family.

Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., who like Hatch and Cornyn sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee that holds jurisdiction over the confirmation of justices, also attended, as did former Republican Sens. George Allen of Virginia and Pete Domenici of New Mexico and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. 

Beyond Scalia’s fellow justices, the funeral drew a number of legal luminaries including two D.C. appellate judges mentioned as possible successors to Scalia: Sri Srinivasan and Merrick Garland. Also present were U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, as well as former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, former Associate Justice John Paul Stevens, former Solicitor General Ted Olson and former White House counsel C. Boyden Gray.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 20:  Justice Clarence Thomas makes a reading during the funeral Mass for Associate Justice Antonin Scalia at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception February 20, 2016 in Washington, DC.  Scalia, who died February 13 while on a hunting trip in Texas, layed in repose in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court on Friday and his funeral service will be at the basillica today.   (Photo by  Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)
Thomas reads from Romans 5:5-11. (Photo by Doug Mills/Pool/Getty Images)

The service followed the traditional format of a Catholic Mass but included a few personal touches. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who often remains silent on the bench, delivered one of the readings.

“If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life?” Thomas read from Romans 5:5-11.

The service did not include a formal eulogy — something the late justice would have appreciated — but the Rev. Scalia’s homily effectively served as one, while also reflecting the theme of the gospel reading. 

“No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him,” a deacon reading from Matthew 11:25-30.

The line was about the relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son, whom Catholics believe are two reflections of one deity, but was could also be applied to the relationship between Paul Scalia and his father. 

The Rev. Scalia used part of his homily to speak about his father’s life, including his 55 years of marriage to “a woman who could match him at every step and even hold him accountable.” Of his father’s relationship with him and his siblings, Paul Scalia said, “Sure he forgot our names at times or mixed them up, but there are nine of us.”

The majority of the Rev. Scalia’s homily, though, focused on the justice’s strong connection to the Church.

“The deeper he was in his Catholic faith, the better citizen and public servant he was,” the Rev. Scalia said. 

He described a scolding he received from his father one time when the justice found himself in his son’s confessional line. “Like heck if I’m confessing to you,” Paul Scalia remembers the justice saying, adding. “The feeling was mutual.”

After sharing a few memories and thoughts about his father, Scalia repeated the justice’s own words about why he didn’t like eulogies:

“Even when the deceased was an admirable person, indeed especially when the deceased was an admirable person, praise for his virtues can cause us to forget that we are praying for and giving thanks for God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner.”

Paul Scalia added, “He would not have exempted himself from that.”

After the funeral ended, priests and uniformed police officers lined the steps as the flag-draped casket was carried back to the hearse. Scalia’s family left immediately after the service for a private burial.

As the Mass concluded, so too did the political pause the funeral forced upon Washington.

Cruz, center, and former Vice President Dick Cheney, upper left, take their seats for Scalia’s funeral Mass. (Doug Mills/Pool/Getty Images)

Cruz, who  broke away from the campaign trail  to attend Saturday’s services, was seen taking pictures with some of the funeral-goers. The Republican presidential hopeful spoke with reporters on his way out of the church and reflected on the man whom he called a “personal hero.”

Cruz, who clerked former Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, said Scalia was the opposite of his stoic former boss.

“He was fiery, passionate and full of life, ” the GOP presidential candidate said.

Scalia’s passing “leaves an enormous vacuum on the court,” Cruz added.

The Texas Republican repeated his belief that the Senate should not take up any nominee that President Barack Obama submits. “This election is not one branch of government; it is two,” Cruz said.

Sessions praised Scalia for his powerful influence on the court.

“He didn’t advance a political agenda as much as he advanced a legal theory,” the Alabama Republican said as he left the church. “He moved the court. It’s much less activist than before Scalia came.”

Lee told Roll Call he attended the funeral because Scalia was a friend of his father’s and “a longtime hero of mine.”

“Today doesn’t feel political to me,” Lee said. “This was a day when you had a lot of people from a lot of ideological backgrounds coming together to honor this great man.”

Family and friends will have another chance to honor Scalia during a memorial service being held at 11 a.m., March 1, at the Mayflower Hotel.


Obama and the Politics of a Funeral Photos: Tribute to Scalia at the Supreme Court

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