This morning, the Supreme Court draped a black wool crepe on Justice Antonin Scalia’s chair and the bench in front of it.
It’s a tradition that dates back to 1873 after the death of Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase and for Scalia, its the beginning of a series of highly choreographed tributes. As tradition would have it, on Friday, Scalia’s flagged-draped casket will be carried up the court steps and the surviving justices will stand on the steps to receive it.
That somber tradition dates back decades. Much of it — like who carries the casket into the court and how long a body lays in repose — is determined by the family. The body of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, for example, was carried into the court in 2005 by his former clerks as well Chief Justice John Roberts, who at the time had been nominated by President George W. Bush for a place on the bench.
The only justice to be granted a state funeral by Congress was William Howard Taft, who served as chief justice from 1921 to 1930, after serving as president from 1909 to 1913. Taft laid in state at the Capital Rotunda.
Whether there or at the Supreme Court, many of caskets have been placed on the Lincoln catafalque, a platform constructed to hold Lincoln’s casket in April of 1865.
According to the Architect of the Capitol, the catafalque was used in the ceremonies for Justices Salmo Chase (1873), Earl warren (1974), Thurgood Marshall (1993), Warren Burger (1995), William Brennan (1997), Harry Blackmun (1999) and Rehnquist (2005).