Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The First Woman in American History to Lie in State

Breaking barriers even in death, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to the steps of the Supreme Court one final time on Wednesday—becoming the first woman in American history to lie in state.

The legal pioneer and cultural icon—who happily accepted the moniker the “Notorious RBG”—died on September 18 due to pancreatic cancer complications. She is the 38th American to receive such a tribute since the practice started in 1852 after the death of statesman Henry Clay.

Justice Ginsburg joins Rosa Parks as the second woman to either lie in state or in honor—lying in state recognizes government officials and military officers, while lying in honor pays tribute to private citizens.

Parks was the first woman and second Black American to lie in honor after her death in 2005. The other was Capitol Police officer Jacob Joseph Chestnut, one of two officers killed in the line of duty when a gunman attacked them at a Capitol entrance. Two African American legislators, Representatives Elijah Cummings and John R. Lewis have also lain in state.

According to the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) homepage, there is no law or regulation specifying who may lie in state, and the honor is open to “any person who has rendered distinguished service to the nation may lie in state if the family so wishes and Congress approves.”

President Abraham Lincoln became the first U.S. president to lie in state after his assassination in April of 1865. Since then, 12 presidents have lain in state, including John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and George H.W. Bush. Military figures include George Dewey, John J. Pershing, Douglas MacArthur, and World War II veteran and Rep. Daniel K. Inouye.

A towering figure known as a tireless advocate for women’s rights and her withering Supreme Court dissents, Justice Ginsburg now joins the fabled ranks, allowing for members of the public to grieve and pay their respects.

As of this morning, Justice Ginsburg was moved from the steps of the Supreme Court and now lies in state at the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol.

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