Legal luminaries mourn Scalia

Updated 1:42 PM EST, Thu February 25, 2016
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Story highlights

Thousands of mourners paid their respects Saturday to late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last week at age 79

Scalia's casket arrived at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington shortly after 11 a.m. ET.

(CNN) —  

A somber reunion of legal luminaries came to Washington on Saturday to celebrate the life of late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last week at age 79.

Scalia’s casket arrived at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington shortly after 11 a.m. ET. The late justice’s son, Paul Scalia, delivered Mass for his father.

“God blessed Dad, as it’s well known, with a love for his country,” Paul Scalia said, his voice occasionally quavering. “He knew well what a close-run thing the founding of our nation was. And he saw in that founding, as did the founders themselves, a blessing. A blessing quickly lost when faith is banned from the public square or when we refuse to bring it there.”

Scalia added, “He understood that there is no conflict between loving God and loving one’s country, between one’s faith and one’s public service. Dad understood that the deeper he went in his Catholic faith, the better a citizen and public servant he became.”

In the front section sat every sitting member of the current Supreme Court. Justice Clarence Thomas a close friend of Scalia and a longtime conservative ally on the bench, participated in the service, reading from the book of Romans. The four other Catholic members of the bench – Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Anthony Kennedy and Justice Sonia Sotomayor – were joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan.

The last to arrive was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a longtime family friend of Scalia, who once said they were an “odd couple” and he counted her as his “best buddy” on the bench. Retired Justices John Paul Stevens and Justice David Souter were there. Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was unable to attend.

In the front section sat Vice President Joe Biden, who served for years on the Senate Judiciary Committee chairing confirmation hearings of federal judges, and his wife, Jill. Former Vice President Dick Cheney – a friend and hunting companion of Scalia’s – also sat in the front section.

The incense-filled basilica hosted former clerks; Scalia had more than 100. As tradition holds, they stood vigil over the casket Friday and into the night at the Supreme Court.

One of the most prominent attendees was Paul Clement, a former clerk who served as solicitor general during George W. Bush’s presidency. Another former solicitor general, Ted Olson, who has argued several cases before the court including Bush v. Gore, was present.

The current solicitor general, Donald Verrilli, also was present, as were White House counsel Neil Eggleston and Attorney General Loretta lynch.

Texas senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz – who served as a clerk to former Chief Justice William Rehnquist – took a break from the campaign trail to mourn.

“As Ronald Reagan was to the presidency, so too was Antonin Scalia to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Cruz told CNN after the funeral concluded. “Justice Scalia has been a personal hero of mine, virtually my entire life.”

Cruz reiterated his belief that a nomination to replace Scalia should wait until the next president takes office.

“It has been 80 years since the Senate confirmed a Supreme Court nominee who was nominated during an election year and we should not start now,” Cruz said. “We have an election in just a few months and I think the American people should be able to choose the direction of this court.”

Michael Carvin, also a frequent Supreme Court advocate who has cases before the Supreme Court this term, also was in the audience. A group of federal judges arrived together, including three – Sri Srinivasan, Patricia Millett and Merrick Garland – who are considered possible nominees to replace Scalia.

Not attending, however, was President Barack Obama, a decision that has been criticized by some Republicans. GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Saturday tweeted, “I wonder if President Obama would have attended the funeral of Justice Scalia if it were held in a Mosque? Very sad that he did not go!”

Obama, however, along with first lady Michelle Obama, members of Congress and more than 6,000 mourners, did pay respects to Scalia as his casket laid in repose at the Supreme Court building on Friday.