WASHINGTON — Droves of mourners outside the Supreme Court paid their respects on Saturday to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday at 87.
The crisp, late-summer day drew people of all ages, many of whom said that her leadership on women’s rights and liberal causes inspired generations of Americans. They left flowers, posters and messages scrawled in chalk near the building’s steps, which had been blocked off by steel fences. But in quiet voices, those in attendance also despaired at the loss.
“She’s just been the backbone of women’s rights in this country, and she was relentless — probably one of the most important voices women have ever had,” said Mary Farrell, 68, an organizer with the Democratic Party. “It makes me wonder who’s going to take up that mantle, if anyone.”
Dominick LaPierre, 30, who had bought flowers to distribute to mourners, singled out Justice Ginsburg for what he described as her moral spirit. “She helped hold the balance in place in this country,” he said. “It’s terrifying now that she’s gone.”
Some of the chalked notes thanked the justice. Others had messages like, “Rest in power, R.B.G.,” and, “Until there are nine,” a quotation from Justice Ginsburg that expressed her desire for nine women to serve on the Supreme Court.
“She fought for so long, through the cancer — she never got to retire,” said Kelli Midgley, 52, who carried a sign that read, “What would R.B.G. do?”
Her voice shook as she spoke about Justice Ginsburg’s achievements. As a high school teacher and debate coach, Ms. Midgley said she had made sure her students understood the importance of the Supreme Court.
“I hope we in this country can be worthy of her legacy,” she said.
For many, with only 45 days until the presidential election on Nov. 3, the politics of the moment were hard to ignore.
“Tensions are high; emotions are high,” said Joseph Seyoum, 21. “It seems like this year can’t get any worse. It’s definitely all coming to a head.”
So far in 2020, the United States has witnessed only the third presidential impeachment trial in history, a once-in-a-century pandemic, a devastating economic collapse and an eruption of racial strife that resulted in violent clashes.
Jesana Gadley, 22, a student at American University in Washington, said she was at the memorial because she wanted to pay her respects because of the justice’s rulings that had helped protect the rights of African-Americans and the L.G.B.T.Q. community.
Ms. Gadley added that she hoped that the death of Justice Ginsburg would galvanize those in her generation to vote in the election in November.
“It would be my hope that people understand when you are voting for a president,” she said, “you’re voting for more than that nominee.”
Among those in the crowd was Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s nonvoting House delegate and a longtime friend and colleague of Justice Ginsburg’s, who took a photograph next to a poster of a raised fist that had been plastered to a barricade blocking the steps.
“People who are here today are on a virtual pilgrimage to pay their respect to Justice Ginsburg, or the Notorious R.B.G., as she is known,” Ms. Holmes Norton said in a live video while outside the court.
For Rita Gold, 78, Justice Ginsburg’s death was a reminder of the possible implications of a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.
“My main concern is that they might try to dislodge the abortion laws,” Ms. Gold said.
The justice was a staunch supporter of women’s rights, and some fear a conservative court could try to roll back Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision establishing a constitutional right to abortion.
Ms. Gold said that her family came to the United States from Europe after World War II, having escaped the Holocaust, and that she watched as her mother tried to get an illegal abortion, which failed. In Justice Ginsburg, Ms. Gold said, she saw someone who fulfilled the promise of the freedoms of the United States.
“We felt that this was the place that would protect us,” Ms. Gold said. “But the country right now is in real trouble.”
Wilson Erickson, 22, a law student at Georgetown University, who also attended a candlelight vigil outside the court on Friday night, said he was glad for a chance to pay his respects.
“She showed that you don’t have to be political to advocate for principles,” Mr. Erickson said. “She was one of those rare people that everyone could get behind.”