Thousands gathered to say goodbye to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who lie in repose at the Supreme Court building

By Sean Neumann
September 23, 2020 11:09 AM

Thousands gathered in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday to begin paying respects to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with some even waiting overnight to say goodbye to the late liberal icon.

Ginsburg, who was the second woman ever named to serve on the Supreme Court and became a celebrated cultural figure in her 80s, died last Friday from complications of metastatic cancer. She was 87.

The justice will lie in repose on the Supreme Court building's top steps for two days, starting Wednesday, before she lie in state inside the U.S. Capitol on Friday, becoming the first woman and first Jewish person in American history to receive the honor.

Tributes have poured in from presidents, her colleagues on the high court bench, celebrities and countless members of the public this week. They continued again Wednesday as mourners came out in droves to remember her impact on the country's ongoing push for justice and equal rights.

The flag-draped casket of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, carried by Supreme Court police officers, arrives in the Great Hall at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on September 23, 2020
| Credit: ANDREW HARNIK/POOL/AFP via Getty

"It has been said that Ruth wanted to become an opera virtuoso, but became a rockstar instead," Chief Justice John Roberts said at a private ceremony inside the building's marble Great Hall, referencing Ginsburg's love of theatrical music and her late-life rise as a liberal culture hero known to many as the "Notorious R.B.G."

Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty

"She was not an opera star, but she found her stage right behind me in our courtroom," Roberts added. "There, she won famous victories that helped move our nation closer to equal justice under law to the extent that women are now a majority in law schools, not simply a handful."

Before Ginsburg's casket was carried back out to the front of the building for Wednesday's public viewing, the remaining eight Supreme Court Justices joined her family, close friends and other colleagues for a private ceremony in the building's hall.

Justice Roberts' solemn voice echoed as he called Ginsburg "a star on the bench," where she served for 27 years and contributed 483 majority, concurring and dissenting opinions the Court's leader said Wednesday will "steer the Court for decades."


Before then, Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt memorialized Ginsburg at the private ceremony surrounding her casket, which was covered in honor by an American flag.

More than 100 of the late Justice's former law clerks lined the steps of the Supreme Court building as her casket arrived Wednesday morning, carried by some of the former colleagues.

Mourners showed up with flowers, signs with grieving messages, as well as photographs of the revered Justice.

Some began waiting outside the building on Tuesday night, according to reporters from The Washington Post at the scene as crowds gradually accumulated. Others, as ABC News photographs showed, wore clothing with Ginsburg's revered public image on it.

Pallbearers carry late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's casket to the Supreme Court building on Wednesday
| Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty
Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty

An outpour of statements have come in this week from both current and former elected officials on both sides of the isle, as Ginsburg has been remembered as a fierce defender of equality, particularly championed for leading the Court towards guaranteeing gender equality and the right for same-sex couples to marry.

"The world is a better place for her having lived in it," Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in another statement, which included an emotional poem remembering Ginsburg's life and accomplishments.

RELATED: "Fearless Girl" Statue Tributes Ruth Bader Ginsburg

President Barack Obama remembered Ginsburg as “a warrior for gender equality" in a statement, as well.

“Over a long career on both sides of the bench — as a relentless litigator and an incisive jurist — Justice Ginsburg helped us see that discrimination on the basis of sex isn’t about an abstract ideal of equality; that it doesn’t only harm women; that it has real consequences for all of us,” Obama, 59, said. “It’s about who we are — and who we can be.”

Hundreds of people have already been gathering outside the Supreme Court building over the weekend and again in the days leading up to Ginsburg's scheduled memorial on Wednesday.

Soon after her death last Friday, mourners filled the Supreme Court's front steps with bouquets and handwritten signs, thanking Ginsburg for “taking care of our daughters” and proclaiming that “not all heroes wear capes.”

“I needed to stand in front of this building and say thank you," Laila Chen, a 35-year-old doctor from Manhattan, told PEOPLE outside the Supreme Court building.

Chen had brought along her young daughter Lucy to the site to pay respects to Ginsburg "at the place where she did so much good and changed the world for women and people of color and gay and lesbian citizens."

“It felt like I had to be here, to mourn and celebrate her with people who loved and admired her too," Chen said.

A young child paying their respects to Ruth Bader Ginsburg outside the Supreme Court last weekend
| Credit: Sonal Dutt

Others, like Dean Howarth, a 55-year-old teacher from Arlington, Virginia, bursted into tears while speaking to PEOPLE about the late Justice.

She was holding on for us, she never could rest,” Howarth said.

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
| Credit: Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post/Getty

The memorials for Ginsburg have extended far beyond the nation's capital.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the late Justice will be honored with a statue in her hometown Brooklyn.

In Chicago, outside of her son Jim Ginsburg's Cedille Records business, flowers and notes with written condolences have been left for the Ginsburg family.

Ginsburg will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery next week, the Supreme Court said.