Lying In Repose? Lying In State? Or Just Plain Lying? : It's All Politics As Senator Robert Byrd lies in repose in the Senate chamber, a question: what is the difference between "lying in repose" and "lying in state"?
NPR logo Lying In Repose? Lying In State? Or Just Plain Lying?

Lying In Repose? Lying In State? Or Just Plain Lying?

The flag-draped coffin carrying Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) is carried by a U.S. military honor guard through the U.S. Capitol earlier today.  Pool/AFP hide caption

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A moving moment earlier this morning, watching the flag-draped casket carrying the body of Robert Byrd being taken up the stairs of his beloved Senate to the Senate chamber.

Byrd, the West Virginia Democrat who died on Monday, was the nation's longest serving senator in history.  He will lie in repose for much of the day today in the Senate chamber, an honor last bestowed in 1959 for the late Sen. William Langer (R) of North Dakota.

Click here for more information on Byrd's memorial service/Tuesday funeral.

A lot of people have been scratching their heads over the difference between "lying in repose" and "lying in state."  Daniel Engber wrote a good description in Slate back in 2005, following the death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist.  "Only in Washington," wrote Engber, would people be arguing over the difference between the two.

When Pope John Paul II passed away in April, the presentation of his body at St. Peter's Basilica was described both ways in the news media. But when you're talking about official U.S. government funerals, "lying in state" has a special meaning: You're only lying in state in the formal sense when your body is in the Rotunda of the Capitol Building in Washington. ...

As a general rule, you can only lie in state if you're due a state funeral. And you're only due a state funeral if you're the president, the president-elect, an ex-president, or someone specially designated by the president. Unless Bush had designated Rehnquist for this honor, the best he could have hoped for was an "official funeral"—which is similar to a state funeral but without the lying in state. Rehnquist's family turned down the official funeral, but they did allow his body to lie in repose at the Supreme Court, in accordance with long-standing tradition.

As for just lying, period, well, senators don't have to be dead to do that.

And speaking of confusion, Republicans are hoping that the decision by West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant (D) -- that there will no election for the seat until 2012 -- is not set in stone.  Charleston Mayor Danny Jones (R) was quoted yesterday as saying he had problems with the fact that an appointee would serve until 2012, rather than be subject to a special election this year.  He said he thought Gov. Joe Manchin (D) would "put the item on the agenda of the special session of the state Legislature" set to begin on July 19.

But that's news to Manchin's spokesman Melvin Smith, who said "he didn't know of any discussions regarding a special session to correct the law.  Phil Kabler of the Charleston Gazette reports that Manchin himself said "he didn't know where Danny Jones had gotten that information" about putting the election law in the special session.

Republicans would love to have a special election this year, when they hope the political climate could give them an opportunity to win a West Virginia Senate seat -- which they haven't done since 1956.

We may know more after Tuesday, when Byrd will be buried in Arlington, Va.  Manchin is expected to name a successor to Byrd sometime this month, with speculation on former state Democratic chair Nick Casey.  The assumption is that Casey will serve as a caretaker, making way for Manchin to run for the seat, no matter when the election is held.