In the midst of a contentious presidential race and bitter partisan divide over choosing his successor, Washington’s powerful gathered Saturday to honor the life of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
The funeral service, held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast Washington, laid to rest the devout Roman Catholic jurist and intellectual godfather of the legal doctrine of originalism.
Although the basilica was a momentary refuge from the political conflict that waged beyond its walls, reminders of the battle to name Scalia’s successor were checkered throughout the assembly.
There was D.C. Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan, who has been tabbed by political insiders as a potential replacement to Scalia on the Court.
Republican presidential hopeful Ted CruzTed CruzTrump enters new debate frontier Pence offers Cruz 'heartfelt thanks' for Trump endorsement Cruz: Trump hasn't apologized for personal insults MORE, a constitutional lawyer, took a reprieve from the campaign trail to honor the jurist.
Vice President Biden attended on behalf of the White House, which is currently contemplating whom to nominate as Scalia’s replacement.
Sens. John CornynJohn CornynSaudi skeptics gain strength in Congress Why Cruz flipped on Trump Schumer rips 'disappointing' 9/11 bill veto, pledges override MORE (R-Texas) and Orrin HatchOrrin HatchInternet companies dominate tech lobbying Senate panel approves pension rescue for coal miners Overnight Tech: GOP says internet fight isn't over | EU chief defends Apple tax ruling | Feds roll out self-driving car guidelines | Netflix's China worries MORE (R-Utah), who have stood behind Republican leadership in the Senate to block President Obama’s impending nomination, sat together.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Scalia’s ideological comrade and friend, took part in the ceremony, reading a verse during the Liturgy of the Word.
Even Reverend Paul D. Scalia, the late justice’s son, briefly inched toward discussing politics during his homily.
"God blessed Dad, as is well known, with a love for his country. He knew well what a close-run thing the founding of our nation was," he said.
"And he saw in that founding, as did the founders themselves, a blessing. A blessing quickly lost when faith is banned from the public square or when we refuse to bring it there. Dad understood that the deeper he went in his Catholic faith, the better citizen and public servant he became."
Paul Scalia also referenced a 1998 letter that his father sent to a Presbyterian pastor whose funeral oration he admired.
The elder Scalia wrote in the letter that “even when the deceased was 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.”
“Now, he would not have exempted himself for that,” Paul Scalia continued, after quoting the letter. “We are here then, as he would want, to pray for God’s inexplicable mercy to a sinner, to this sinner, Antonin Scalia.”
Scalia's hearse was greeted at the white chapel by the sound of church bells that stilled both the air and onlookers gathered in black.
The casket was preceded in the auditorium by a procession of priests draped in white frocks and carrying incense and candles. Among them was Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl, who wore red.
Pallbearers solemnly carried the casket through the narrow aisle to the front of the room as the congregation sang a Latin hymn and a pipe organ blared.
Wuerl introduced many of the notable guests in attendance, including Biden, former Vice President Dick Cheney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
"As I extend this warm welcome to each of you, I also express profound gratitude to all who are here," he said before introducing Scalia's son.
Outside the basilica, protesters gathered, holding signs reading “God judges your judges,” “God hates your idols,” and “America is doomed.”
Wuerl alluded to the outsized attention being paid to the supposedly private ceremony.
“In keeping with your desire to have a simple, parish, family mass,” Wuerl opened the service, pausing to hushed laughter, “I will confine my remarks to these few words of greeting and welcome.”
As mourners followed the casket out of the main entrance of the basilica, dignitaries including Hatch filed out of the east side of the church, while Biden and his wife exited from behind the altar after the Scalia family left their seats.
A bell tolled and the sun broke through overcast skies as the American flag-draped coffin was loaded back into the hearse.
A memorial program for Scalia will be held at 11:00 a.m. on March 1 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, according to the program.
"All family and friends are invited to attend and participate in this tribute to the justice,” it read.
Lydia Wheeler and Harper Neidig contributed.
- Updated at 1:12 p.m.