Flags outside Alito’s homes spark political backlash as Supreme Court nears end of term

Washington- Reports of two different flags flying outside Justice Samuel Alito’s homes have sparked a political storm and reinvigorated the focus on ethical practices at the Supreme Court, as Democrats push legislation that would require the court to adopt a binding code of conduct. and demand justice. to recuse themselves from cases involving former President Donald Trump and the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

Alito, his wife and the two flags.

The criticism of Alito follows a pair of New York Times reports that revealed that an upside-down American flag was flying in front of his Virginia home in mid-January 2021, and an “Appeal to Heaven” flag was displayed in front of his vacation home in New Jersey in July and September 2023.

Both types of flags were carried by rioters who stormed the US Capitol building on January 6, 2021, prompting Democrats to denounce their presence outside the Alito Houses.

“Appeal to Heaven” flag shown at left, January 6, 2021, United States Capitol.

government exhibition

The judge told the New York Times that he “had no involvement in the flying of the flag” outside his Virginia home in early 2021 and told the Times in a statement that it had been “raised briefly by Ms. Alito in response to a neighbor’s use of objectionable and personally insulting language on yard signs.” The Supreme Court did not respond to a request for comment on the “Appeal to Heaven” flag.

An upside-down American flag has been used to signal danger and, according to the United States Code, “shall never be displayed with the union downwards, except as a signal of extreme danger in cases of extreme danger to life or property.”

The “Appeal to Heaven” flag, also called the pine flag, dates back to the American Revolution and signified resistance to British colonization. The flag was often seen “on the seas as the insignia of cruisers commissioned by General Washington,” according to a Congressional report published in 2006. The phrase “appeal to heaven” was used by 17th-century philosopher John Locke, who wrote in his Second Treatise of Government that “where the whole people, or any man, is deprived of his right, or is under the exercise of a power without right, and has no appeal on earth, there he has the freedom of appeal to heaven, provided they judge the cause of the moment sufficient.”

In recent years it has been associated with Christian nationalism.

Democrats call for Alito’s Jan. 6 recusal, Trump immunity cases

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois criticized Alito for the episodes and asked him to recuse himself from participating in cases before the Supreme Court involving an obstruction charge against the Jan. 6 defendants and whether former President Donald Trump should be protected from criminal prosecution for the reason. grounds for presidential immunity.

“You can’t play fast and loose with these political symbols without jeopardizing your own integrity,” said Durbin, a Democrat.

Durbin said he hopes the Senate will take up the legislation, advanced by judicial panel last year, that would require the Supreme Court to adopt a binding code of ethics and implement procedures to handle complaints of judicial misconduct.

“It’s time for the highest court in the land to move away from the lowest standard of ethics,” he said.

The Supreme Court issued a code of conductsigned by the nine sitting judges in November, but does not include an enforcement mechanism.

Forty-five House Democrats have also called on Alito to recuse himself from cases related to the Jan. 6 attack or the 2020 election. They sent him a letter Tuesday saying that even if he did not participate in the display of the flag, “the fact of such a political statement in his home creates, at a minimum, the appearance of inappropriate political bias.”

While Republicans have largely defended Alito, others have questioned allowing the American flag to be displayed upside down.

“It’s not good judgment to do that,” Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, told reporters earlier this week. “He said his wife was insulted and got angry. I guess that’s true, but he’s still a Supreme Court judge.”

Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina said it was “probably unwise” to have a flag with political meanings, but said other members of the high court had taken positions he disagreed with.

“If we’re going to be intellectually honest about it, let’s look at every case where there’s a hint of some kind of political or ideological motivation,” he told reporters.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said there have been “continued attacks” on the high court.

“We need to leave the Supreme Court alone, protect it from people who came into their neighborhoods and tried to hurt them,” the Kentucky Republican said.

Flag Reports Emerge as Supreme Court Prepares to Release Politically Charged Decisions

The revelations about the flags, which the New York Times reported were displayed in January 2021 and the summer of 2023, come as the Supreme Court enters the final weeks of its term. The judges are set to hand down decisions on a range of politically charged issues, including abortion and guns. His rulings in two other cases could also have significant implications for Trump.

The first involves an obstruction statute used to prosecute more than 350 defendants who allegedly participated in the Jan. 6 attack. Trump was charged with violating that law, which makes it a crime to “corruptly” obstruct an official proceeding, and conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. He has pleaded not guilty to both charges.

If the Supreme Court limits the scope of the law and rules that it cannot apply to the January 6 attack, Trump could push to have those two charges dismissed.

The second case involves whether he can even be criminally prosecuted for his alleged actions surrounding the 2020 election. Trump has argued that he is entitled to broad immunity for supposedly official acts carried out while in office, but special counsel Jack Smith, who brought the case against the former president, has urged the Supreme Court to reject Trump’s claims.

The justices heard arguments in both cases in April and votes were held behind closed doors soon after. At this point in their mandate, the justices are working on their opinions, which will be announced publicly in the coming weeks. Supreme Court terms typically end at the end of June.

It seems unlikely that Alito will recuse himself from the cases involving Trump and January 6, but if he does and they are decided 5-4 with his participation, the court would deadlock 4-4. In those cases, the rulings of the lower courts stand.

In the Jan. 6 case, that would mean a ruling in favor of the Justice Department from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit would stand. In the immunity case, a unanimous three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit rejected Trump’s claims that he is largely protected from federal prosecution.

If Alito rejects recusal calls, he could choose to explain why, as he did in September when rejected the demands of the Democrats step aside from a tax case argued in December. Alito had participated in interviews with a Wall Street Journal editor and a lawyer, David Rivkin, who represents the couple involved in the tax case.

“There is no valid reason for my recusal in this case,” Alito wrote in a four-page statement that was included in a routine list of Supreme Court orders.

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