The White House announced Wednesday that President Obama will not attend Saturday’s funeral Mass for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia; instead, Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will pay their respects on Friday when Scalia’s body will lie in repose at the court. (Vice President Joe Biden will attend the Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.)
This is a mistake.
In 2005, I covered the funeral for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist in Washington. Then-President George W. Bush not only attended, but he also delivered a eulogy, one of many tributes at the service.
Given their political differences, it probably wouldn’t be appropriate for Obama to speak at Scalia’s funeral, and the family might not want him to participate in the ceremony. But he should attend.
Even if he doesn’t spend Saturday golfing — a scenario raised by a reporter at a White House press briefing — Obama’s absence amounts to a slight to the court’s longest-serving member, a justice the president himself described as “one of the most consequential judges and thinkers to serve on the Supreme Court.”
It’s also is a dumb political move. By attending the funeral Obama would have underscored the importance of nonpartisanship when it comes to the court. That could only have helped him make the case that the Republican-controlled Senate has a duty to give fair consideration to the person he nominates to succeed Scalia.
Unless the Scalia family let it be known that it didn’t wish Obama to attend — which seems inconceivable — the president’s decision makes no sense.
Follow Michael McGough on Twitter @MichaelMcGough3