Mourners Pay Their Respects to Ruth Bader Ginsburg at Supreme Court Vigil: 'She Was Holding on for Us'

"I needed to stand in front of this building and say thank you," a mourner told PEOPLE

Hundreds of mourners gathered at the Supreme Court building to honor the legacy of late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In addition to filling the steps of the Supreme Court with bouquets and handwritten signs which thanked Ginsburg for “taking care of our daughters” and proclaimed that “not all heroes wear capes,” many, who traveled to Washington, D.C. to pay their respects, were visibly emotional.

She was holding on for us, she never could rest,” Dean Howarth, a 55-year-old teacher from Arlington, Virginia, told PEOPLE, before bursting into tears.

Children and adults left handwritten messages written in chalk on the sidewalk, and a number of groups also gathered in Jewish prayer circles to pay their respects to Ginsburg, who was the first Jewish woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg vigil
Mourners leave signs and flowers outside of the Supreme Court. Sonal Dutt
Ruth Bader Ginsburg vigil
Vigil for Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Sonal Dutt

“When someone dies in Jewish tradition, we leave a simple rock on their headstone,” explained Dana Marlowe, who was visiting from Silver Spring, Maryland.

After learning of Ginsburg’s death on Friday, which marked the first night of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Marlowe, 44, decided to “bring a rock and leave it at the corner of the steps of the Supreme Court.”

Marlowe added that within a few hours of asking on Facebook if any of her friends wanted her to leave a rock for them, she received 300 responses.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg vigil
Mourners leave handwritten messages outside of the Supreme Court. Sonal Dutt
Ruth Bader Ginsburg vigil
A child sharing a handwritten message in honor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Sonal Dutt

A number of parents also shared the moment with their children, impressing upon them the importance of the late justice’s legacy.

“It felt like I had to be here, to mourn and celebrate her with people who loved and admired her too. At the place where she did so much good and changed the world for women and people of color and gay and lesbian citizens,” Laila Chen, a 35-year-old doctor in Manhattan who brought along her young daughter Lucy, told PEOPLE.

“I needed to stand in front of this building and say thank you,” she continued, tearing up. "That you’re the reason a generation of young girls will know they are worth fighting for, and their opinions matter and they are every bit as valuable as little boys. I had to be here. I wanted to be here. I wanted her to know that we’re here for her like she was for us," Chen added.

While some children there may have been learning about Ginsburg’s legacy for the first time, Chen's daughter Lucy, 7, was already a big fan.

"I was Ruth for Halloween two years ago because I wanted to dress as someone strong who made people’s lives better,” she told PEOPLE, adding of her mom, “I think she’ll have to buy me a new one for Halloween this year.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg vigil
A young child paying their respects to Ruth Bader Ginsburg outsdie the Supreme Court last weekend. Sonal Dutt
Ruth Bader Ginsburg vigil
Mourners pay tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Sonal Dutt

Another parent reflected on how he explained Ginsburg’s legacy to his 3-year-old daughter.

“I told her in a way that she could understand, ‘You know why we’re here, honey? We’re here, on the steps of the Supreme Court, because a woman named Ruth who worked in that big building and did so much good in this world, well she passed on to heaven yesterday,’ ” said Ramon Alvera, 28, an accountant in Atlanta.

“'And we’re here—you, me and your mamma and all these people around us—because that woman Ruth wanted to make sure that smart, strong, kind, wonderful girls and women, like you and your mom, can do and be anything you want to be. And you can, and that’s because of women like Ruth,’ ” Alvera added. “And I won’t just tell her that today, you know. Her mom and I are going to make sure she knows that her path was paved by women like the Justice and other strong women like her.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg vigil
Mourners outside of the Supreme Court. Sonal Dutt

Despite the somber mood, the crowd was also filled with calls to action.

“If you’re looking for a moral touchstone, there is no greater one than the principled Ruth Bader Ginsburg,” said Kelli Midgley, 52, who sat in front of the Supreme Court steps while holding up a sign reading “What Would RBG Do?”

“I want everyone to be the person that she fought to allow us to be. So my sign says, what would she do?” added the high school teacher, who works in Ellicott City, Maryland. “Well, going forward I want us to think, what would Ruth Bader Ginsburg want me to do in this situation?”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg vigil
Mourner at Ruth Bader Ginsburg vigil. Sonal Dutt
Ruth Bader Ginsburg vigil
Mourner at Ruth Bader Ginsburg vigil. Sonal Dutt

The rallying cries continued throughout the evening, as Elizabeth Warren spoke out against Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who previously blocked Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, but has vowed to vote on Donald Trump’s replacement nominee — which goes against Ginsburg’s “most fervent wish” to not be replaced until after the presidential election.

"Mitch McConnell and his henchmen believe that they can ram through a Supreme Court justice only 45 days from Election Day," Warren said while addressing the crowd at the vigil, which was hosted by several activist groups, according to NPR.

"Mitch McConnell believes that this fight is over. What Mitch McConnell does not understand is this fight has just begun," she added, drawing a big cheer from the crowd, which included actor Justin Theroux.

Justin Theroux
Justin Theroux. Justin Theroux/Instagram

Ginsburg, who was appointed to the bench in 1993 by President Bill Clinton appointed her in 1993, was one of the court’s liberal voices and at the time of her death led the liberal wing’s four members.

“Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature. We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague," Chief Justice John G. Roberts said in a statement. "Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her—a tireless and resolute champion of justice."

Updated by
Maria Pasquini

Associate Editor, Human Interest - PEOPLE

Related Articles