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At The Steps Of The Supreme Court, A Small Memorial For Justice Scalia

Flowers and candles sit at the foot of the U.S. Supreme Court following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Drew Angerer
Getty Images
Flowers and candles sit at the foot of the U.S. Supreme Court following the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

On a frigid morning in Washington, the flags fluttered at half staff. Under a cloudless sky, the Supreme Court building looked brilliant.

A small American flag was draped at the foot of the steps and mourners placed flowers and candles to pay tribute to Justice Antonin Scalia.

Bill Follett, a trial judge from California, was visiting Washington with his family. He stood right in front of the memorial for a moment.

"He certainly was a very intelligent man who strongly felt his judicial philosophy," Follett said. "I certainly didn't always agree with him but I certainly always appreciated him and respected him."

Follett said that Scalia spoke for a large part of American society so he appreciated reading his position on the Constitution.

Samantha Montgomery, who lives in D.C. now but is from Monticello, Arkansas, showed up at the steps holding a bouquet of baby's breath. She said she remembers reading Scalia's dissents in college and she remembers how he put to paper what she was feeling.

"I appreciated his bluntness and you have to honor that, because it's rare these days," she said.

That bluntness also made Scalia a controversial figure. As we've reported, many of his dissents were scathing and he held very unyielding views on controversial topics including gay marriage and gun control.

Christopher Baker was visiting from San Francisco. He said Scalia's dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 case that legalized same sex marriage, really hurt.

"I know that Scalia came down very hard against that ruling," Baker said. "It almost seemed in a very mean spirited way, beyond the four corners of the law, so that was a little bit hard to digest."

Deb Nussbaum was visiting D.C. from New Jersey. The first thing she said is that she was a Democrat so she and Scalia didn't see eye-to-eye very much.

Still, she wanted to pay her respects. He was a good man, she said, who fulfilled an incredible public service in his three decades on the bench.

"I'm always charmed by the fact that he and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were such close friends and I think that's a lesson for all of us that we don't have to agree politically to have great respect for each other and friendship and common bonds," she said.

As she spoke, a mourner walked toward the memorial and put down a red, bound version of the Constitution.

Nussbaum looked around. She said the makeshift memorial, the flags at half staff, the neoclassical architecture of Supreme Court, they're all lovely, a symbol of the great institutions this country has built.

"How can you not stand in front of our court and just feel how privileged we are to be Americans," she said.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.