“Her life and leadership cemented the truth that all men and women are created equal,” Pelosi said in a statement issued after brief remarks at the ceremony.
Ginsburg, who served for 27 years and was the second female justice on the Supreme Court, died Sept. 18 at 87 of complications from cancer. She will be buried in a private ceremony next week at Arlington National Cemetery alongside her husband, Marty.
Her casket rested upon the Lincoln catafalque as Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt offered a eulogy and Denyce Graves, one of opera aficionado Ginsburg’s favorite singers, offered a traditional spiritual, “Deep River,” and a patriotic song, “American Anthem,” in somber serenade.
Former vice president Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, and his wife, Jill, traveled to the Capitol to honor Ginsburg.
But it was the women of Congress who played the most noticeable — albeit silent — role, making up the majority of the invitation-only guests at the brief memorial service. When Ginsburg’s casket departed the Capitol, the lawmakers stood in line on the steps of the East Front, hands over their hearts, to bid her farewell.
“What she did for women not only has changed our country, but I think has changed the world,” said Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), who was one of a handful of Republican women to pay their respects to Ginsburg.
Lying in state is the United States’s highest form of tribute, normally reserved for presidents, military leaders and other distinguished lawmakers. Ginsburg is only the second Supreme Court justice to receive the honor; the late president William Howard Taft, who also was chief justice, lay in state in 1930.
“Look at all the men on the Supreme Court — I doubt that this kind of tribute will be paid to any of them,” said Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who was assistant legal director at the ACLU shortly before Ginsburg launched its Women’s Rights Project, where she argued six landmark gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court. She won five, cementing equal access to mortgages, banking services, jury representation and pension, caregiving and military benefits.
“Her most brilliant work was done in winning those five women’s rights cases,” Holmes Norton said.
Female lawmakers said the precedent-setting recognition for Ginsburg was a testament to how dramatically women’s rights have changed as a result of her lifetime crusade.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) recalled how earlier this summer, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), the youngest woman in Congress, delivered a floor speech to protest an insult from a male congressman and a “culture” that normalizes “violent language against women.”
“If I had done that when I was younger, I would have been fired, I wouldn’t have had a job . . . people do not understand that that was really the experience of a lot of people of my generation,” Dingell said, reflecting on Ginsburg’s work. “She brought to the courts, to everything that she did — she experienced it . . . and she is the first generation. I am where I am because she helped open the doors.”
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the youngest Republican woman in Congress, said she credited Ginsburg and the women of her generation with paving the way for others to break barriers, “even if you disagreed with some of her decisions.”
“She really lived so many generational changes that women faced,” Stefanik said. “She’s the first but she will not be the last to lie in state.”
Absent from the ceremony were many of the top congressional Republicans, a reminder of the political fight over President Trump’s plans to nominate conservative Judge Amy Coney Barrett to replace the liberal icon within weeks of the election. An announcement is planned Saturday.
Ginsburg’s dying wish was for the next president to choose her successor, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is moving swiftly to fill the seat as voters are casting early ballots.
McConnell did not attend the service; his spokesman declined to comment on his whereabouts or schedule. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also did not attend.
A Pelosi spokesman said McConnell and McCarthy were invited. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was the seniormost Republican in attendance.
Democrats said the current political crossroads weighed on them as they reflected on Ginsburg’s legacy.
“We owe so much to her, and we have to recommit ourselves to continue the fight for justice and equality for all in this country,” Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) said. “That journey continues . . . not only in the hall of Congress, but corporate boards and for Black and Brown people, immigrants, especially women.”
Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, said Ginsburg had cleared a path for women like her to thrive.
“It’s very important, I think, that in the midst of being 39 days away from an election that we honor one of the, I think, greatest Americans, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in terms of all that she did, all that she inspired, all that she empowered, both legally and just in terms of the way she lived her life,” Harris told reporters after attending the service.
Asked whether Ginsburg had cleared a path for her, Harris, who served as attorney general in California before her election to the Senate, said, “Absolutely.”
“Because she first of all made America see what leadership looks like, and in the law, in terms of public service, and she broke so many barriers,” Harris said. “And I know that she did it intentionally, knowing that people like me could follow.”
While most mourners paid tribute silently, one stood out for his physical display. Bryant Johnson, Ginsburg’s personal trainer, dropped to the ground and did three full push-ups in front of the flag-draped casket. Even in her advanced years, Ginsburg continued to do strength training with Johnson, who had been her trainer for two decades.
A pioneer and a cultural icon, Ginsburg also is the first Jewish person to lie in state.
“Today we stand in sorrow, and tomorrow we the people must carry on Justice Ginsburg’s legacy,” Holtzblatt, whose husband, Ari, clerked for Ginsburg, said in her eulogy. “She was our prophet, our North Star, our strength, for so very long. Now, she must be permitted to rest after toiling so hard for every single one of us.”
John Wagner and Colby Itkowitz contributed to this report.