February 20, 2016 by: Ben Heimsath

On special occasions, the majestic public spaces in our nations’ capitol become sacred. When a former President dies, the Rotunda in the US Capitol Building has been the location for the body to lie in state for public visitation. I didn’t know that there’s a similar tradition at the Supreme Court. The Great Hall of the Supreme Court is the location for public viewing when a justice dies.


This image from Politico shows Justice Scalia’s coffin laying in repose yesterday in the Great Hall.  The President, other justices and many who knew and worked with the Justice Scalia came to pay their respects. Other important gestures symbolize the Court in mourning. By tradition, if a sitting justice dies, the judge’s chair is draped in black. Another tradition, honoring both sitting and former justices, is the placement of black fabric at the door to the court.


I remember the Great Hall from my year working in Washington. Massive columns line both sides of a narrow rectangular interior. Heavy doors at either end provide access. The architects clearly intended the Hall to convey a sense of gravitas, but to me, it always felt cold and somber. So it seems very appropriate for paying respects to the deceased.

Sacred Architecture