When television news outlets broadcast ceremonies honoring the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday and noted she was the first woman to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol, some viewers may have been confused.
Wasn’t Rosa Parks, the civil rights icon, whose casket lay in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda after her 2005 death, the first woman to lie in state?
Both Parks and the second woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court were fearless women who had battled for justice. And both women were underestimated by the worlds they were born into. Why were their caskets treated differently?
What it means to lie ‘in state’ vs. ‘in honor’ vs. ‘in repose’
Ginsburg was the first woman to lie in state at the Capitol because she was a member of the Supreme Court. Only government officials “lie in state.”
Parks, a private citizen when she died at 92, was accorded the recognition of “lying in honor” at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Oct. 30 and 31, 2005.
If a government official’s coffin is placed in a public place outside of the Capitol, it is described as lying in repose.
Why where it happened mattered
Ginsburg, who died at 87, lay in state Friday at the National Statuary Hall.
At least CNN anchor John King misspoke when describing the ceremonies by saying she was the first woman to lie in state “at the Rotunda, Statuary Hall.”
The Rotunda is a domed circular room in the center of the Capitol, with corridors that lead south to the House of Representatives and north to the Senate chambers. Statuary Hall is a two-story semicircular room between the Rotunda and the House chamber.
Ginsburg lay in state at Statuary Hall, which allowed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to control the ceremonies.
For someone to lie in state at the Rotunda, both the Senate and House leaders must approve. That meant if Ginsburg’s remains lay in state at the Rotunda, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who announced plans for Ginsburg’s replacement hours after her death, would have had the right to co-host the ceremony and speak.