Pete Williams is a longtime NBC News correspondent who reported on the Supreme Court for years

By Robyn Merrett
September 25, 2020 01:34 PM
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Pete Williams fought back tears on Friday as Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's casket arrived at the U.S. Capitol.

The longtime NBC News correspondent, who reported on the Supreme Court for years, was comforted by fellow anchor Savannah Guthrie while remembering Ginsburg during their coverage of her memorial. Ginsburg died a week ago on Sept. 18 from complications of metastatic cancer at the age of 87.

As Williams explained that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi would share opening remarks at the memorial — which also included a eulogy by Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt and a performance of "Deep River" and "American Anthem" by Ginsburg's friend and mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves — he began to break down.

"It really brings together the three loves of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's life: her family, the law and opera," Williams, 68, said while crying, adding that it's been a "tough day here."

Savannah Guthrie, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Pete Williams
| Credit: Ben Gabbe/Getty; Chip Somodevilla/Getty; William B. Plowman/NBC via Getty

"Pete, take a breath," Guthrie, 48, said gently. "So many people feel a connection to Ruth Bader Ginsburg over the years as she has a become an icon in many ways and a cultural figure."

Friday's memorial began at 10 a.m. ET. Ginsburg is the first woman and first Jewish person to lie in state in Statuary Hall on the Lincoln Catafalque at the Capitol. Ginsburg is among 38 people (12 of whom were U.S. Presidents) who have been given the honor since 1852, according to CNN.

Williams also choked up as Ginsburg's casket arrived at the Supreme Court on Wednesday. On Monday, it was announced that Ginsburg would lie in repose at the Supreme Court on Wednesday and Thursday before being moved to the U.S. Capitol.

"It looks like the casket is now arriving," Williams said before tearing up. "This is 27 years since Ruth Bader Ginsburg ... arrived here," he continued, excusing himself as he cried.

"It was [also] 49 years ago when she first came here to argue her first case in the Supreme Court, beginning this long string of advocacy that persuaded the Supreme Court that discrimination between men and women was unconstitutional," Williams added.

"Pete, as we watch this scene unfold, you're not the only one who has a lump in his throat. It looks like thousands of people are there coming to pay respect to Justice Ginsburg," Guthrie said.

At Statuary Hall, the mood was somber as black bands were wrapped around every column and mourners were seen wiping away tears over the loss of the liberal icon.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris honoring Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday
| Credit: GREG NASH/POOL/AFP via Getty

"It is with profound sorrow and deep sympathy to the Ginsburg family that I have the high honor to welcome Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to lie in state in the Capitol of the United States. She does so on a catafalque built for Abraham Lincoln. May she rest in peace,"Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said.

Among those at this morning's private service were former vice president and current Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, who entered the room before the hearse arrived, exchanging a few waves before taking their seats — six feet apart from other mourners, in accordance with coronavirus mandates.

His running mate Kamala Harris was seated on the opposite side of Statuary Hall, along with other senators and House members who quietly mingled before the arrival of the hearse, according to a pool report. Harris and the Bidens were seen gathered together before the ceremony began.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The Bidens, Harris, Pelosi, Senator Chuck Schumer and most other lawmakers present placed their hands on their hearts as the casket was brought in.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Tammy Duckworth were also seen paying their respects.

Later in the ceremony, Biden could be seen nodding his head in agreement during a speech by Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, who touched on the path Ginsburg had forged for both women and men alike.