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Justice Scalia's Funeral Mass To Bring Together Unlikely Peers


The funeral rites for Justice Antonin Scalia are being held today here in Washington. They'll be at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a grand and colorful Catholic church just a few miles north of the Supreme Court building where Scalia served for nearly 30 years. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg will attend the funeral. She joins me now. Nina, hi.


WERTHEIMER: Today's funeral mass comes the day after Justice Scalia lay in repose at the Supreme Court. The president and the first lady paid their respects there. What was that like yesterday, the ceremony at the court, the mourners who attended it?

TOTENBERG: What struck me were two things. First of all, Justice Scalia's son, Paul, who's a Catholic priest, said the prayers. The court members filed in in the order in which they will now sit, which is very different from the way they did sit. It gets entirely shuffled based on seniority. And some of them looked really stricken, just really stricken, and not necessarily the people you would expect. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had a long friendship with Scalia, looked incredibly sad. The chief justice looked just awful. This was a death so quick and so unexpected, and you could see it in their faces. Their spouses were with them, the spouses of late justices, justices who've died. Thurgood Marshall's wife and son were there for this. But the really moving people I thought were the staff of the Supreme Court who filed past the casket after the formal prayers were said. And they - some of them were in their work clothes, jeans. There were carpenters and janitors. Some of them were in black dresses and suits. But these are the people who make this institution function on a daily basis. A lot of them looked red-eyed, some of them crossed themselves, but they all felt he was part of them, and it was really very touching.

WERTHEIMER: Not everything that has happened since Justice Scalia died has had a sort of a loving tone to it. From the moment last weekend when we learned that he was dead, that he had died traveling in Texas, there has been comment and argument about filling his vacancy on the court.

TOTENBERG: Well, it took about an hour for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to issue a statement saying that there shouldn't be a nominee and that if there were a nominee, it wasn't going to get acted upon by the Senate in any way, shape or form. And I've talked to a bunch of judges, conservative Republican appointees who were really quite shocked by this. And that conversation, if we can call it that, to be nice, has continued at a fairly hot pitch. What's really amusing is that you see - when you look at everybody's statements that - on both sides of the aisle, they've talked out of both sides of their mouth, depending on who's in power and who's not. I saw a Harry Reid statement saying, there's nothing in the Constitution that says the Senate has to act on any presidential nominee. Well, that was back when President Bush was president and vice versa. So this is not a pretty carrying-on at the moment.

WERTHEIMER: What do you expect to see in the Basilica today?

TOTENBERG: Well, most of conservative legal Washington I expect to be there and also liberals who were Scalia's friends. That includes Vice President Biden. Antonin Scalia was one of these guys who really didn't care what your politics were. If you liked him, he liked you. He was not doctrinal in his friendships. And so I expect that it'll be somewhat mixed. Sen. Cruz is said to be coming. I talked to one of Scalia's closest friends yesterday who said that Scalia certainly know who Cruz was. He's running for president. But, Cruz said he was going because he had this connection to the Supreme Court from when he was a clerk for Chief Justice Rehnquist. And my source said, well, unfortunately, Scalia really didn't remember him from his clerkship at all.

WERTHEIMER: NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, Nina, thank you.

TOTENBERG: Thank you, Linda. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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