US & Canada

Antonin Scalia death: Funeral Mass for US Justice

Pallbearers carry the coffin into the basilica for the Mass, 20 Feb Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Pallbearers carry the coffin into the basilica for the Mass

A funeral Mass has been held in Washington for US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last weekend at the age of 79.

Thousands attended the service, which was held in the largest Catholic church in the United States.

Mr Scalia's coffin had earlier lain in the Supreme Court with President Barack Obama among those paying respects.

The death of Mr Scalia, who was seen as a hero by the US right, has sparked a political row over his successor.

How death reshapes key cases

The crisis of US governability

Scalia in his own words

Private burial

Thousands of mourners filled the vast Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Saturday.

One of Mr Scalia's nine children, the Reverend Paul Scalia, led the Mass, ahead of a private burial.

Mr Scalia, who serves the diocese of Arlington, Virginia, 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."

But he then added: "That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth."

It was because of Jesus that "in confidence we commend Antonin Scalia to the mercy of God".

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Justice Clarence Thomas reads from the Bible

The country's eight remaining Supreme Court justices attended the service.

One of them, Clarence Thomas, offered a Bible reading.

The BBC's Washington correspondent Gary O'Donoghue says those in the basilica were commemorating the life of a man seen as a hero by the religious and political right.

But, he says, even before Mr Scalia has been laid to rest, the political battle lines over his successor have already been drawn, with a Republican-controlled Senate threatening to block any nomination the president puts forward.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ted Cruz (C) and ex-Vice President Dick Cheney (top left) were among those attending
Image copyright AP
Image caption Antonin Scalia was an important conservative voice in the Supreme Court
Image copyright AP
Image caption His casket lay in repose at the Supreme Court on Friday

The Supreme Court says more than 6,000 visitors viewed the casket in the Great Hall on Friday.

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were among those paying their respects at the flag-draped coffin, but were not at the funeral.

Vice-President Joe Biden was at the Mass - he has a close personal relationship with the Scalia family - as was Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Mr Obama's attendance could have created security issues.

Mr Cruz has been among those demanding there be no nomination of a successor until after the November presidential election.

Mr Obama has insisted he will go through with the nomination.

Mr Scalia's death leaves the Supreme Court evenly divided between liberal and conservative justices ahead of crucial cases on abortion, voting rights and immigration.

According to the constitution, the president nominates justices to the court and the Senate uses its "advice and consent" powers to confirm or reject that person.

Mr Scalia died unexpectedly while visiting a remote Texas ranch last Saturday.

He had a history of heart trouble and high blood pressure. US authorities said there had been no foul play.

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