Upside-Down Flag on Justice Alito’s Lawn in January 2021 Could Raise Concerns Over His Impartiality in Trump Cases

The flag ‘was briefly placed by Mrs. Alito,’ the justice says, ‘in response to a neighbor’s use of objectionable and personally insulting language on yard signs.’

Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame
Justice Samuel Alito at Rome, July 21, 2022. Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

WASHINGTON — An upside-down American flag, a symbol associated with former President Trump’s claims of election fraud, was displayed outside the home of Justice Samuel Alito in January 2021, the New York Times reported Thursday.

A photo obtained and published by the newspaper shows the flag flying on January 17, 2021, days after Mr. Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Dozens of the rioters were carrying similarly inverted flags and chanting slogans like “Stop the Steal.”

The report could raise concerns about Justice Alito’s impartiality as the court considers two major cases related to the attack, including charges faced by the rioters and whether Mr. Trump has immunity from prosecution on election interference charges. An editorial of the Sun, “Justice Alito’s Old Glory,” appears in the adjacent columns.

It comes as another conservative justice, Clarence Thomas, has ignored calls to recuse himself from cases related to the 2020 election over his wife, Ginni Thomas’, support for Mr. Trump. 

At the time the flag was flying, the court was still considering whether to take up cases over the 2020 election. It ultimately rejected them over dissent from three conservative justices, including Justice Alito, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, a Republican. 

He wrote that the court’s consideration of the cases would have no impact on the 2020 election but “would provide invaluable guidance for future elections.”

Justice Alito, for his part, acknowledged the presence of the flag at his home at Alexandria, Virginia, but said it was placed there by his wife.

“I had no involvement whatsoever in the flying of the flag,” Justice Alito said in an emailed statement to the newspaper. “It was briefly placed by Mrs. Alito in response to a neighbor’s use of objectionable and personally insulting language on yard signs.”

Martha-Ann Alito had been in a dispute with another family in the neighborhood over an anti-Trump sign on their lawn, and neighbors also interpreted the flag as a political statement, the Times reported. It isn’t clear how long the flag was flying.

Judicial ethics codes focus on the need for judges to be independent, avoiding political statements or opinions on matters they could be called on to decide. 

The Supreme Court had long gone without its own code of ethics, but adopted one in November 2023 in the face of sustained criticism over undisclosed trips and gifts from wealthy benefactors to some justices. The code lacks a means of enforcement, however.

A law professor at the University of Virginia, Amanda Frost, told the newspaper that flying the flag upside down is “the equivalent of putting a ‘Stop the Steal’ sign in your yard, which is a problem if you’re deciding election-related cases.”

Even if it was placed by his spouse or someone else living in the home, “he shouldn’t have it in his yard as his message to the world,” she said.

The Supreme Court has warned its own employees about public displays indicating partisan leanings, the newspaper reported. The court did not respond to questions about whether those rules apply to justices.

America’s Flag Code states that the flag is not to be flown upside down “except as a signal of dire distress in instance of extreme danger to life or property.” 

It has been used as a protest symbol on both the left and the right on a range of issues over the decades. It took off as a symbol of Mr. Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign as he contended that his election loss to President Biden was fraudulent.

Associated Press

The New York Sun

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