WASHINGTON President Barack Obama, the U.S. Supreme Court's eight remaining members, former law clerks and thousands of ordinary Americans paid respects to the late Justice Antonin Scalia on Friday as his body lay in repose in the stately, white-marble courthouse.
The president and first lady Michelle Obama were greeted by Chief Justice John Roberts, spoke with some Scalia family members and briefly stood in silence, heads bowed, in front of Scalia's casket during an afternoon visit.
Scalia, a staunch conservative and one of the court's most consequential justices during his three decades on the bench, died last Saturday at age 79 at a Texas hunting resort.
Earlier, during a brief and sombre morning ceremony inside the courthouse's Great Hall, Roman Catholic priest Father Paul Scalia, one of Scalia's nine children, delivered a prayer before the eight justices and members of the Scalia family quietly filed away.
On a chilly, overcast day, Scalia's casket was carried up the courthouse's grand marble stairs and into its Great Hall by Supreme Court police officers in ceremonial dress, with a group of former Scalia law clerks flanking them in two long lines.
Mourners filed past the casket, draped by the red, white and blue U.S. flag, and the line of people waiting to enter the courthouse stretched around the block. Among those who visited were two appeals court judges, Sri Srinivasan and Patricia Millett, who could be contenders to replace Scalia.
Scalia's funeral service is scheduled for Saturday.
Several of the justices, particularly Elena Kagan, a liberal who went on hunting trips with her conservative colleague, looked emotional as they stood in a row while Scalia's casket was placed on a raised bier. Chief Justice John Roberts, his hands clasped, bowed his head.
Scalia, appointed by Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1986 as the court's first Italian-American, earned a reputation as a brilliant jurist during an era when the court was dominated by conservatives. He opposed abortion and same-sex marriage, supported the death penalty and gun rights, and was known for colourful writing and, when he was on the losing end of a ruling, stinging dissents.
His family said he died of natural causes.
His death has provoked a political clash between the Democratic president and Republicans in the U.S. Senate who are threatening to block any nominee put forward by Obama to fill Scalia's vacancy. The Senate must confirm any nominee. An Obama appointment could tilt the conservative-leaning court to the left for the first time in decades.
A large entourage of Scalia family members, including his widow, Maureen, was in attendance. Ninety-eight former Scalia law clerks took turns standing vigil during the day.
Obama will not attend Scalia's funeral on Saturday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, a decision that provoked criticism from some conservatives. Vice President Joe Biden will represent the Obama administration at the funeral.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Jeff Mason)
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