The flag-draped coffin of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was brought to the Supreme Court's Great Hall this morning as court justices, his nominated successor and friends and family looked on in a highly symbolic and emotional ceremony marking the death of the nation's 16th chief justice.

Rehnquist's wooden casket, draped with the American flag, was carried up the Supreme Court's long marble stairs by a former assistant and seven former law clerks, including John Roberts, the man nominated by President Bush to succeed him.

After a brief, emotional prayer service attended by the Rehnquist family and six Supreme Court justices, official Washington began paying its last respects. Rehnquist's body will lie in repose at the court for public viewing until Wednesday.

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush came to the court building shortly before 4 p.m. to pay their respects. While the public viewing line was stopped briefly, Bush and his wife walked over to the casket and stood there for a moment in silence. Then, accompanied by Justice Antonin Scalia, they viewed a portrait of Rehnquist before leaving.

As the pallbearers carried the casket up the stairs in the morning, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who has announced plans to retire from the court, wiped away tears and appeared visibly shaken. O'Connor has known Rehnquist since they attended Stanford Law School together.

Rehnquist's casket was placed on the historic Abraham Lincoln catafalque, on which presidents' coffins have rested. Lincoln's body was placed on the catafalque in 1865 after his assassination.

Rehnquist, 80, died of thyroid cancer Saturday at his home in north Arlington.

Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and David Souter were absent from the ceremony.

The casket was carried by Roberts and six other former Rehnquist law clerks -- David G. Leitch, Frederick W. Lambert, Ronald J. Tenpas, Kerri Martin Bartlett, Gregory Garre and John C. Englander. James Duff, who was an administrative assistant to the chief justice from 1996 to 2000, was the eighth pallbearer, according to a spokeswoman for the Supreme Court.

The public may pay respects to the chief justice at the court from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., today and from 10 a.m. to noon, Wednesday. A long line of people formed outside the Supreme Court building as the prayer service went on inside.

Ceremonies will conclude with the chief justice's burial at Arlington National Cemetery Wednesday afternoon, which will be private. Warren E. Burger and Earl Warren, Rehnquist's two immediate predecessors, are also buried at Arlington.

Rehnquist's family met yesterday with officials from the court and the Archdiocese of Washington, finalizing the arrangements for the funeral and burial. The family toured St. Matthew's Cathedral in Northwest Washington, where a service will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

Officials have said the funeral is for friends and family. As chief justice, Rehnquist is entitled to a state-sponsored official funeral, including a 19-gun salute and other military honors.

Rehnquist belonged to a Lutheran church, but the family requested that the funeral be held at St. Matthew's. A spokeswoman for the archdiocese has said that the request apparently was based on such factors as size and availability. The service will be Lutheran, a Supreme Court spokeswoman said.

Details about speakers and expected guests at the funeral were not available yesterday.

Justice William J. Brennan Jr.'s funeral also was held at St. Matthew's, in July 1997, after his coffin lay in the Supreme Court's Great Hall.

Construction began on St. Matthew's in 1893, and the first Mass there was in 1895. Its sanctuary seats about 2,000 and contains the marble cathedra, or seat, of the archbishop of Washington. The church has undergone an $8 million restoration in recent years, including the cleaning and repair of two large mosaics inside and the recovering of its copper dome.

St. Matthew's was the site of the funeral Mass for President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 25, 1963. Pope John Paul II addressed 1,500 area priests there in October 1979 during a visit to Washington. The funerals of Cardinal James A. Hickey and Cardinal Patrick A. O'Boyle also were at St. Matthew's, on Rhode Island Avenue just east of Connecticut Avenue.

District police said yesterday they had not been informed of any special traffic or security needs for the various services, Sgt. Joe Gentile said. The Supreme Court has its own police force.

Rehnquist was a World War II veteran, entitling him to burial at Arlington. His wife, Natalie Cornell Rehnquist, was buried there in 1991.

Rehnquist's two immediate predecessors, Warren E. Burger and Earl Warren, also lay in repose in the Supreme Court building before they were laid to rest at Arlington.

Staff writers Charles Lane and Martin Weil contributed to this report.