WASHINGTON – Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was remembered Saturday as a man who loved God, country and family at a funeral Mass capping two days of mourning for a jurist who left a long and sometimes provocative legacy on the U.S.
Scalia’s son Paul – a Catholic priest – led the service and mixed humour with reverence for the conservative icon and father of nine who died unexpectedly last weekend.
“Sure he forgot our names at times or mixed them up, but there are nine of us,” Scalia told thousands of mourners at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
“He loved us and sought to show that love and sought to share the blessing of the faith he treasured,” Scalia said.
Dignitaries including Vice-President Joe Biden, former Vice-President Dick Cheney, members of Congress and all eight sitting justices of the Supreme Court were among those attending.
Scalia’s sons and sons-in-law served as pallbearers, carrying his flag-draped casket up the steps of the basilica. Scalia lay in repose at the Supreme Court on Friday, where thousands of visitors came to honour one of the country’s most influential conservative voices.
The service was a traditional Catholic funeral Mass that was filled with pageantry, celebrity and a little bit of humour. It was simple, with no formal eulogy, in keeping with the justice’s philosophy that funerals should not be dominated by effusive praise.
Washington’s archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl drew chuckles during opening remarks when he told the massive crowd that he would keep his comments brief “in keeping with your desire to have a simple parish family Mass.”
Only two people read from Scripture. Leonard Leo, executive director of the conservative Federalist Society, a conservative legal group, read a passage from the Old Testament’s Book of Wisdom.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who shared Scalia’s conservative judicial bent, read a passage from the New Testament’s Book of Romans.
During the homily, Scalia’s son recalled how his father reacted once after accidentally standing in his son’s confessional line.
“He quickly departed it. As he put it later, ‘Like heck if I’m confessing to you,”‘ the younger Scalia said. “The feeling was mutual,”
The Rev. Scalia joked that “the Roman collar was not a shield against his criticism.”
The family departed for a private burial at an undisclosed site immediately after the Mass. A memorial service for Scalia has been set for March 1 at a Washington hotel.
Scalia, 79, died last weekend at a remote Texas ranch after spending nearly three decades on the high court. As the court’s most prominent conservative voice, Scalia was known for his biting dissents that mixed humour with scathing barbs.
He was known as a champion of originalism – interpreting the Constitution according to the meaning understood when it was adopted. He famously sparred with liberals who view the constitution as a “living document” and frequently declared in public speeches his view that the Constitution is “dead, dead, dead.”
Several federal judges who are considered possible replacements for Scalia also attended the funeral Mass, including Judges Sri Srinivasan and Patricia Millett and Chief Judge Merrick Garland, all of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
They were joined by a who’s who of the political and legal world in Washington.
President Barack Obama did not attend Saturday’s funeral Mass, despite criticism from some Republicans. He and first lady Michelle Obama were among the more than 6,000 people who paid tribute to Scalia at the Supreme Court on Friday. Scalia’s flag-draped casket rested on a funeral bier that first held President Abraham Lincoln’s casket after his assassination in 1865.
Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz interrupted his campaign on the same day as the South Carolina primary to attend the Mass.
The Texas senator has been among those urging the Senate not to consider replacing Scalia until after the November election. Obama has insisted that he will nominate a successor.