President, first lady pay respects to Scalia

President Obama and first lady Michelle ObamaMichelle ObamaOvernight Tech: Facebook's Sandberg comes to Washington | Senate faces new surveillance fight | Warren enters privacy debate Michelle Obama signs up for Snapchat Michelle Obama: 'It's time for us to come together' MORE traveled to the Supreme Court on Friday to pay their respects to Justice Antonin Scalia, who died Saturday at the age of 79. 

The Obamas joined hundreds of mourners who poured into the court to view Scalia’s casket, which was placed on the Lincoln Catafalque inside the Great Hall.

The president, clad in a dark suit and blue tie, and the first lady, wearing a black dress, entered the hall at 3:38 p.m. and stood beside the justice’s casket, bowing their heads.

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The couple then walked over to view a portrait resting on an easel between wreaths of flowers, showing Scalia resting. Obama patted his wife on the back and the couple exited after spending about two minutes inside the hall.

Before entering the hall, the Obamas spent 15 minutes privately offering condolences to members of Scalia's family. The president shook hands with Chief Justice John Roberts as he entered the court.

The public was cleared out of the area surrounding Scalia before the Obamas’ arrival. 

Despite his appearance at the court, Obama has faced heavy scrutiny over his decision not to attend Scalia’s funeral Saturday. Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill, are attending in place of the first family.

The conservative jurist’s death has set off a major fight over whether Obama should nominate a replacement in the midst of a torrid presidential election.

Obama has said he will make a nomination, over the objections of Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates who want to wait until after a new leader is voted in. His decision to skip the funeral further inflamed his critics, who interpreted it as a sign of disrespect to a justice who has often been at odds with the president.

The White House defended the decision to send Biden, and not Obama, saying the vice president requires a smaller security footprint and has a long relationship with the Scalia family.

Obama also honored Scalia as a larger-than-life legal figure in a statement on Saturday after his death.

"He influenced a generation of judges, lawyers, and students, and profoundly shaped the legal landscape," the president told reporters in Southern California. "He will no doubt be remembered as one of the most consequential judges and thinkers to serve on the Supreme Court."

This story was updated at 5:02 p.m.