By David J. Kent
Friday, December 15, 2024
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor passed away on December 1st at the age of ninety-three. On December 18, 2023, O'Connor, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court, will lie in repose in the Supreme Court building. Her casket will sit on the Lincoln catafalque.
The catafalque is a simple wooden platform covered in black cloth. It was designed at the behest of Benjamin Brown French, Sr. to hold Abraham Lincoln's casket during services at the Capitol Rotunda following Lincoln's assassination. [And yes, for those wondering, French is the uncle of Daniel Chester French, the sculptor of the monumental seated Lincoln statue in the Lincoln Memorial.]
Use of the catafalque requires an order of Congress and is generally only made available to people of national prominence. One need not have been a prominent politician or Supreme Court justice, although most have been. Notable exceptions include Generals John J. Pershing and Douglas MacArthur, as well as J. Edgar Hoover. A full list of those who have lain in state or in repose can be seen here. The catafalque may be used in the Capitol, the Supreme Court building, or rarely, in other locations. Afterwards it is returned to its storage location on display in the Capitol Visitors Center.
O'Connor will lie "in repose," the designation used for when the service is not in the Capitol. A person lies "in state" if they were a current or former government official and the service is in the Capitol building Rotunda. If they were a private citizen or a former government official whose casket is in the Capitol building but not in the Rotunda, then they are said to lie "in honor."
More information can be found in this article by Scott Bomboy at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. More information on the catafalque itself can be found on this page from the Architect of the Capitol.
[Note the linked article says she will lie in repose on the 19th, but the official SCOTUS page says the 18th. Thanks to John Swallow for catching it.]
Photo credit: Architect of the Capitol: https://www.aoc.gov/what-we-do/programs-ceremonies/lying-in-state-honor/lincoln-catafalque