Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's widow, Maureen McCarthy Scalia, walks behind the casket following his funeral Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, Feb. 20, 2016. 
Photo by Doug Mills/Reuters

Funeral for SCOTUS Justice Antonin Scalia focusing on his faith, service

Justice Antonin Scalia was remembered Saturday at a funeral Mass attended by thousands as a man of convictions anchored by his love of faith, family and country.

The somber ceremony at Washington D.C.’s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, North America’s largest Roman Catholic church, was led by one of Scalia’s nine children, Paul Scalia, a Catholic priest.

“He understood there is no conflict between loving God and loving one’s country, one’s faith and public service,” the Rev. Scalia said during his homily for the elder Scalia, who after a history of heart problems died a week ago at age 79.
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“God blessed him with a desire to be the country’s good servant because he was God’s (servant) first,” the Rev. Scalia added.

Scalia’s body laid in a coffin draped with a white patterned cloth. In the audience, the sea of mourners included D.C. political powerbrokers and dignitaries, such as Vice President Joe Biden, the current Supreme Court justices and two retired justices, John Paul Stevens and David Souter.

Earlier in the Mass, Justice Clarence Thomas, who shared in Scalia’s judicial opinions, gave a reading from the New Testament’s Book of Romans.

The Rev. Scalia’s voice broke quietly as he spoke of his father’s love for his wife of 55 years, Maureen, and the children they raised in their large Italian-American household.

“Sure, he forgot our names at times or mixed them up, but there are nine of us,” Scalia said to laughter. “He loved us, and sought to show that love and sought to share the blessing of the faith he treasured. And he gave us one another, to have each other for support. That’s the greatest wealth parents can bestow, and right now, we’re particularly grateful for it.”

The younger Scalia also shared a humorous and heartfelt tale about when his father went to confession one Saturday while his son was there.

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“The Roman (Catholic) collar was not a shield against his criticism,” the Rev. Scalia said. “The issue was that he had found himself in my confessional line and he quickly departed it. As he put it later, ‘Like heck if I’m confessing to you.’ The feeling was mutual.”

Scalia’s homily hinted at a parallel between Scalia, one of the high court’s most colorful and conservative justices, and Jesus, whom he described as a man “loved by many, scorned by others.”

Jesus, the Rev. Scalia said, was “known for great controversy and for great compassion.”

Scalia’s unexpected death on Feb. 13 at a Texas hunting resort stunned the nation and brought the future of the court’s ideological makeup into question.

Scalia, as the Supreme Court’s conservative leader, was an outspoken judge when he joined the court in 1986 as a President Ronald Reagan nominee.

His off-the-cuff remarks outside and inside the court rankled many for his stances on gay rights, affirmative action and immigration.

When President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2015, Scalia struck back at the majority’s ruling as “pure applesauce” and “interpretive jiggery-pokery.”

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The president and first lady Michelle Obama chose not to attend Saturday’s funeral, and instead were among the thousands who paid their respects while Scalia’s body laid in repose Friday in the hallowed Great Hall of the Supreme Court.

A White House spokesman had said the decision to not include the president was a “respectful arrangement” because of the large security detail Obama would require.

Obama has said he plans to pick a replacement for Scalia’s seat before his presidential term ends this year — leading many prominent Republicans to demand he wait because it’s an election year.

Biden, who had a personal relationship with the Scalia family as a fellow Catholic, represented the White House at the funeral.

The ceremony was a first for a Supreme Court justice at the blue-domed Basilica of the National Shrine, which can hold at least 3,500 people. Last September, Pope Francis conducted a Mass at the basilica’s grounds.

At the end of the Mass, Scalia’s casket was covered in an American flag and carried by pallbearers down the church’s front steps. He was set to be buried at a site undisclosed publicly by the court.

Many former justices are buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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Funeral for SCOTUS Justice Antonin Scalia focusing on his faith, service