What’s the Difference Between Lying in State & Lying in Repose for Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

Getty Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the 2020 DVF Awards on February 19, 2020.

Today, Ruth Bader Ginsburg is lying in repose at the Supreme Court building. She will later be lying in state in the Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol on Friday. What is the difference between “lying in repose” and “lying in state”? And how does “lying in honor” compare to those terms?

Here’s what you need to know:


The Meaning of Lying in Repose

Lying in repose typically refers to when the casket of someone of high stature, such as a government official, can be publicly viewed in a building other than the U.S. Capitol, so the public can pay their respects, The New York Times reported. The term is also commonly used to describe when the body of a deceased person of high standing is made available for a public viewing.

Justice Antonin Scalia lay in repose at the Supreme Court building. Nancy Reagan lay in repose at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd, the longest-serving senator in U.S. history, lay in repose in the Senate chamber after he passed. He did not lie in state or in honor in the Capitol.

Ginsburg’s body will lie in repose at the Supreme Court on Wednesday and Thursday, September 23 and 24. Her casket will arrive at the Supreme Court just before 9:30 a.m. Eastern time, with former clerks serving as honorary pallbearers, ABC 11 reported. There will be a private ceremony, and then she will lie in repose under the Portico at the top of the steps from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern time on Wednesday, and from 9 a.m. Eastern to 10 p.m. Eastern time on Thursday, according to the Supreme Court’s website.


The Meaning of Lying in State

Lying in state is a rare honor reserved for select elected officials and military officers. They are granted the honor of having their casket placed in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol for public viewing. Members of the armed forces guard the casket, each representing one of the branches, and periodically rotate. Customarily, only presidents, military commanders and members of Congress lie in state. For presidents and former presidents, the honor is automatic.

The first person to lie in state was Henry Clay in 1852. More recently, those who lay in state included President John F. Kennedy, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, Senator Hubert Humphrey, Senator Claude Pepper, President Ronald Reagan, President Gerald Ford and President George H.W. Bush. Bush was the last President to lie in state.

Most recently, John Lewis and Elijah Cummings both were given the honor of lying in state in 2020 and 2019. Bush and Senator John McCain also lay in state in 2018.

President Richard Nixon’s family chose to surrender the honor of lying in state, believing some might think it was not respectful.

On Friday, Ginsburg will lie in state at the Statuary Hall in the Capitol. There will be a private ceremony. She will be the first woman to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol, and the first Justice since Chief Justice and former President William Howard Taft to lie in state at the Capitol, ABC 11 reported. Taft died in 1930.


How Does Lying in Honor Work?

While Ginsburg will be the first woman to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol, Rosa Parks did lie in honor at the Capitol in 2005. The Reverend Billy Graham was also honored this way in 2018.

Lying in honor is reserved only for private citizens, who are given the honor of having their casket placed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda for public viewing. Including Billy Graham and Rosa Parks, only four private citizens have been given this honor. The other two citizens who have been given this honor were U.S. Capitol Police Officers Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson, who were shot and killed in the Capitol in 1998, The New York Times reported.

There are no official rules that dictate who can lie in state or who can lie in honor, except that customarily only government officials can lie in state, while private citizens can lie in honor, Fox News reported. The casket is typically guarded by the U.S. Capitol Police. The decision to grant this honor is made by a concurrent resolution of the House and Senate and can be granted to anyone who has given a distinguished service, with the family’s approval.

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