WASHINGTON — Scores of people filled the steps leading up to the Supreme Court on Friday night, crowding the plaza outside and spilling across the street in a candlelight tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died earlier in the day.
Many said that, to them, it was a solemn celebration of Justice Ginsburg’s legacy in shaping American jurisprudence, and it should not be corrupted by the political fights bound to flare up across the street in the Capitol in the days to come.
“We, as citizens, have a responsibility to mourn her, and stand together and show that we care about human life, which is something I think we’ve lost in the last six months,” said David Means, who was quietly discussing the justice’s legacy in the court’s plaza. “We need to be here — this is the place to be for anyone who believes in American ideals and progress in this country.”
“I happened to be in D.C. tonight when this happened,” said Dougie Meyer, who said he splits his time between New York and Washington and was standing with Mr. Means. “And I could think of no other place to be than here.”
Mourners began arriving at the court after dusk. At first, those gathered were so quiet that splashes from nearby fountains were audible across the plaza. But soon crowds swelled, filling the courthouse stairs, singing “Amazing Grace” and discussing the effect Justice Ginsburg had on the law.
Nearly all of the mourners appeared to be wearing masks to protect themselves from the coronavirus, but social distancing was less observed, with many standing nearly shoulder to shoulder.
Jamie Abrams, a professor at the University of Baltimore, attended the vigil alongside two of her students, whom she had never met in person because of pandemic precautions.
“I’ve taught her cases for 15 years,” Ms. Abrams said. “She was a professor first, of course, and just an inspiration to me in the classroom and in helping other people see a vision to how they can change the law. You come to law to study what it is, but also to transform it to what it could be.”
Becca Ebert of Seattle, who moved to Washington for a dual-degree program at Georgetown University, credited Justice Ginsburg with opening doors for women. “I know that I can go to law school because of a lot of the work that she did,” she said.
Many noted the outsize role Justice Ginsburg had in advancing the rights of women. But others at the vigil were there to celebrate Justice Ginsburg’s role in landmark rulings on matters like gay marriage.
“As a proud L.G.B.T.Q.I.A. Hispanic male, it transcends so many different levels, in my community, in the community I was raised up in El Paso, Texas — it absolutely means so much, the work that she did,” said Richard Cerros of Washington.
“For me, I have six sisters, I got 11 nieces,” said Randolph Rogers, who was there with his girlfriend. “She created a path for so many different types of people, and not just women — it’s people of color, it’s men, it’s people who are L.G.B.T.”
While the looming fight over Justice Ginsburg’s replacement was deliberately set aside by many who gathered to pay their respects, an unmistakable sense of loss remained for others, for whom Justice Ginsburg had became a hero over the course of their lives.
“I’m an old person, and what scares me is the fact that — without appropriate justices — that people who are in their twenties or thirties won’t have the same kind of freedom and experiences that we had and the choices we could make,” said Michael Friedman of Washington. “The rights that we’ve come to enjoy and that are important to us could just as easily be taken away from us now as not.
“I felt like she always brought wisdom and common sense and had a sense for what people really wanted,” he added. “And I think that we’re going to miss that.”