Washington: Washington's elite put political differences aside as thousands gathered to pay final respects to US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, whose death last week ignited a fierce battle over his successor.
Vice President Joe Biden and the court's Chief Justice John Roberts led a distinguished group of officials, dignitaries and family friends in attendance at the funeral mass yesterday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Scalia died a week ago of an apparent heart attack at age 79 while on a hunting trip in Texas. It was the first funeral for a sitting member of the US high court since 2005, when Chief Justice William Rehnquist died.
Scalia -- a conservative icon -- was a devout and tradition-bound Catholic. Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, called him "an extraordinary man."
His death plunged the Supreme Court into uncertainty, leaving what had been a conservative-dominated body evenly divided in a year of blockbuster cases -- on abortion, affirmative action, immigration and President Barack Obama's health care law.
It also set off an epic election-year battle over Scalia's successor, whose appointment could tip the body to a liberal majority with the potential to reshape American life far into the future.
Thousands of mourners filled the pews at the vast Romanesque-Byzantine basilica, the country's largest Catholic church -- where Pope Francis celebrated a mass in September.
Dozens of white-robed priests were on hand -- so laughter ensued when Wuerl said that Scalia had expressed a desire for a "simple parish family mass."
The mass was led by one of the justice's nine children, Paul Scalia, who is a priest in nearby Arlington, Virginia. Four other sons served as pallbearers.
While the late justice preferred traditional Latin masses, his own was mostly in English.
In words that to many seemed to refer to his father, Paul Scalia said: "We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more, a man loved by many, scorned by others, a man known for great controversy, and for great compassion."
He paused, then added, "That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth."
It was because of Jesus, he went on, that "in confidence we commend Antonin Scalia to the mercy of God."