A makeshift memorial sits on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia on Saturday. Wednesday, the White House said President Barack Obama will attend and pay tribute to Scalia Friday when the body of the longtime justice will lie in repose at the Supreme Court building. Vice President Joe Biden will attend the memorial service Saturday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
WASHINGTON, Feb. 17 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama will pay final respects to late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as his body lies in repose Friday, the White House said, but will not attend the funeral Saturday.
The president's plans were confirmed during Wednesday's press briefing by Obama spokesman Josh Earnest.
"It will be an opportunity for the president and the first lady to pay their respects to Justice Scalia," Earnest said of the Friday viewing.
Scalia died of natural causes at the age of 79 on Saturday. In line with tradition, the New Jersey native's body will lie in repose Friday at the Great Hall of the Supreme Court building before a funeral service Saturday.
Vice President Joe Biden will attend the funeral, which will be held at Washington, D.C.'s Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Earnest said he wasn't sure exactly what Obama's weekend plans consist of, but noted that his attendance Friday represents a great honoring and a deep respect the president has for Scalia's long and distinguished service in the government's judicial branch.
"Can you rule out him going golfing on Saturday instead of the funeral?" one reporter asked Earnest in the White House briefing room.
"I don't have a sense of what the president's plans are for Saturday," Earnest replied. "The president obviously believes it is important for the institution of the presidency to pay his respects."
Flags are seen at half staff at the U.S. Supreme Court building following the death of longtime Justice Antonin Scalia
on Saturday. The body of Scalia, who was appointed to the high court in 1986, will lie in repose at the Supreme Court building Friday before a memorial service Saturday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Earnest called the president's planned tribute Friday "an appropriate opportunity" for Obama to show personal and institutional respect for a high court judgeship that lasted for 10,732 days between 1986 and 2016.
"The president gave some pretty thoughtful words in discussing Justice Scalia's service on the Supreme Court, not just Saturday night but yesterday in his news conference. Friday will be an important opportunity for the president and the first lady ... and I think that's important, not just on a personal level, but also on an institutional level. ... It will be an important moment and we will have some more details about the president's plans for both Friday and Saturday."
U.S. presidents don't always attend the funerals of late Supreme Court justices. If the president doesn't attend, the vice president often fills that role -- although three of the last seven justice funerals weren't attended by either the president or vice president.
Some commentators have opined that whether or not a president attends a justice's funeral is sometimes influenced by the pair's allied or misaligned political views and whether the two agree on key issues.
President George W. Bush attended the funeral of the last justice to die, conservative Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in 2005 -- but did not attend a memorial service three years earlier for liberal justice Byron White, who was appointed by President John F. Kennedy.
Former President Bill Clinton did not attend the funerals of Nixon-era justices Lewis Powell and Harry Blackmun in the late 1990s -- but did attend services for former Chief Justice Warren Burger and William Brennan, who were also appointed by Republican administrations.