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2-Day Event Honors Ginsburg As She Lies In Repose At Supreme Court

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Mourners gathered at the Supreme Court today to pay tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Many stood outside silently paying their respects as her casket was carried up the steps by the court's police officers. Inside the cavernous Great Hall of the court, a private service attended by family, colleagues and friends. Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt began.

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LAUREN HOLTZBLATT: (Non-English language spoken).

PFEIFFER: NPR's Nina Totenberg was also there among the friends. Nina joins me now.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hi there.

PFEIFFER: Rabbi Holtzblatt is married to one of Justice Ginsburg's former clerks. And today she described the enormous impact of Justice Ginsburg's life and legacy. What did the rabbi say?

TOTENBERG: She quoted the justice about the Constitution's invocation of we the people. Think back to 1787. Who were we the people, Ginsburg often observed. They certainly weren't women. They surely weren't people held in human bondage. The genius of our Constitution, she said, is that now, more than 200 sometimes turbulent years later, we have expanded and expanded.

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HOLTZBLATT: To be able to see beyond the world you are in, to imagine that something can be different - that is the job of a prophet. And it is the rare prophet who not only imagines a new world but also makes that new world a reality.

PFEIFFER: Tell us more about the legacy Ginsburg leaves behind.

TOTENBERG: Well, I think it's twofold, as Chief Justice Roberts observed today. Ginsburg as a lawyer remade the workforce so that women now have equal opportunities, equal rights and benefits. But as to the rest of her legacy - embracing equal treatment for gays and lesbians, reproductive freedom for women, allowing qualified immigrants to enter the country, endorsing strong protections for voting rights - those things may now be threatened by the appointment of a sixth conservative justice who likely will have very different ideas from Ginsburg.

PFEIFFER: John Roberts served on the court with Ginsburg for 15 years. What did he have to say?

TOTENBERG: He said that she wanted to be an opera virtuoso but instead became a rock star.

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JOHN ROBERTS: She became a star on the bench, where she sat for 27 years. Her 483 majority, concurring and dissenting opinions will steer the court for decades. They are written with the unaffected grace of precision.

TOTENBERG: The chief pointed to a famous photo of Ginsburg and her ideological foe, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, riding atop an elephant in India. The two often disagreed about the law, but their close friendship endured. And when I interviewed the two of them together in 2015, RBG said that some of her female friends often asked her why she allowed Scalia in that photo to sit in front of her. Scalia joked that it was a matter of seniority. She replied that it was the elephant's master who assigned the seats so as to distribute the weight.

PFEIFFER: When Ruth Bader Ginsburg lies in repose at the court Friday, she'll become the first woman to lie in state at the Capitol building. What do you think she would have made of that?

TOTENBERG: I think she'd be very pleased.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR's Nina Totenberg. Thank you.

TOTENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.