Funeral Mass for US Justice Scalia

Pallbearers carry the coffin into the basilica for the Mass, 20 FebImage copyright

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Pallbearers carry the coffin into the basilica for the Mass

A funeral Mass is being celebrated in Washington for US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last weekend at the age of 79.

The service, attended by Vice-President Joe Biden, is being held in the country’s largest Catholic church.

Mr Scalia’s coffin had earlier lain in the Supreme Court with President Barack Obama among those paying respects.

The death of Mr Scalia, who was seen as a hero by the US right, has sparked a political row over his successor.

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The Supreme Court says more than 6,000 visitors viewed the casket in the Great Hall on Friday.

It was then moved on Saturday morning to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception for the funeral Mass, concluding two days of official mourning.

One of Mr Scalia’s nine children, Rev Paul Scalia, will lead the Mass, ahead of a private burial.

Rev Scalia, who serves the diocese of Arlington, Virginia, will deliver the homily. No eulogy is expected.

The country’s eight remaining Supreme Court justices will attend.

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Ted Cruz (C) and ex-Vice President Dick Cheney (top left) are among those attending

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Antonin Scalia was an important conservative voice in the Supreme Court

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His casket lay in repose at the Supreme Court on Friday

The BBC’s Washington correspondent Gary O’Donoghue says thousands are expected to pack the Basilica to commemorate the life of a man seen as a hero by the religious and political right.

But, he says, even before Mr Scalia has been laid to rest, the political battle lines over his successor have already been drawn, with a Republican-controlled Senate threatening to block any nomination the president puts forward.

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama were among those paying their respects at the flag-draped casket on Friday, but are not attending the funeral.

Mr Biden has a close personal relationship with the Scalia family, and White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Mr Obama’s attendance could create security issues.

Republican presidential hopeful Ted Cruz is attending the Mass.

He has been among those demanding there be no nomination of a successor until after the November presidential election.

Mr Obama has insisted he will go through with the nomination.

Mr Scalia’s death leaves the Supreme Court evenly divided between liberal and conservative justices ahead of crucial cases on abortion, voting rights and immigration.

According to the constitution, the president nominates justices to the court and the Senate uses its “advice and consent” powers to confirm or reject that person.

Mr Scalia died unexpectedly at his remote Texas ranch last Saturday.

He had a history of heart trouble and high blood pressure, and US authorities said there had been no foul play.

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