WASHINGTON — Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was remembered Saturday as a man of faith, family and the law in a funeral marked by church ritual and pageantry for the conservative jurist whose larger-than-life personality dominated the high court for nearly three decades.
A who’s who of the nation’s political and legal elite was among more than 3,000 mourners at a funeral Mass for Scalia at the largest Catholic church in the United States. Vice President Joe Biden and 10 of the 11 living justices with whom Scalia served joined his wife of 55 years, their nine children and dozens of grandchildren on a balmy winter morning.
President Barack Obama didn’t attend Scalia’s funeral Mass, prompting criticism from some Republicans. The White House said the decision was a “respectful arrangement” given the president’s large security detail and Biden’s personal relationship with Scalia’s family.
Scalia was buried later Saturday in a private ceremony at an undisclosed location.
He died unexpectedly last week at age 79 at a resort ranch in west Texas. He was the longest-serving among the current justices and the court’s most outspoken conservative.
His death has set off a tumultuous political fight over a replacement and is affecting the presidential campaign. One Republican candidate, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, interrupted his campaign ahead of Saturday’s South Carolina primary to attend the Mass.
The Rev. Paul Scalia, the justice’s son and a Catholic priest, presided over a traditional service that lasted more than 1 1/2 hours and dispensed with eulogies that Scalia himself had said he did not like. Instead, his son spoke with reverence and humor about Scalia as a father and Catholic who saw “no conflict between faith and the love of one’s country.”
Scalia regarded the founding of the United States as “a blessing — a blessing quickly lost when faith is banned from the public square or when we refuse to bring it there,” his son said.
As a father, “he loved us and sought to show that love and sought to share the blessing of the faith he treasured,” he said.
“Sure, he forgot our names at times or mixed them up, but there are nine of us,” Paul Scalia said to laughter from the crowd at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
The Catholic priest assured the many lawyers in the audience who may have felt the sting of Scalia’s barbed questions during Supreme Court arguments that he shared their pain.
“The Roman collar was not a shield against his criticism,” Paul Scalia said.
Scalia’s son recalled how his father reacted once after accidentally standing in his son’s confessional line.
“He quickly departed it. As he put it later, ‘Like heck if I’m confessing to you,’ ” the younger Scalia said. “The feeling was mutual.”
The younger Scalia also honored his mother, Maureen, as “a woman who could match him at every step and could even hold him accountable.”
Among the other participants in the Mass was Justice Clarence Thomas, who also is Catholic. Thomas read a passage from the New Testament’s Book of Romans.
Scalia was known as a champion of originalism — interpreting the Constitution according to the meaning understood when it was adopted. He famously sparred with liberals who view the constitution as a “living document” and frequently declared in public speeches his view that the Constitution is “dead, dead, dead.”
His flag-draped casket was brought to the church from the Supreme Court, where more than 6,000 visitors, including Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, paid their respects on Friday.
Scalia’s sons and sons-in-law served as pallbearers at the basilica, as did a Supreme Court police honor guard.
They wheeled the casket up the center aisle of the church past dignitaries including Attorney General Loretta Lynch, former Vice President Dick Cheney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, 95-year-old retired Justice John Paul Stevens and other federal judges. Among them were several mentioned as possible successors: Judges Sri Srinivasan and Patricia Millett and Chief Judge Merrick Garland, all of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Cruz, who planned to return to South Carolina Saturday, has been among Republican senators pledging to keep Scalia’s seat empty until after the November election. Obama has insisted that he will nominate a successor.