May 23, 2024 | Reading Time: 6 minutes

Impartial jurist Samuel Alito wishes awful liberal neighbors hadn’t provoked his ‘Stop-the-Steal’ flag-flying wife

A profile in moral courage, writes Stephen Robinson.

Courtesy of MSNBC, via screenshot.
Courtesy of MSNBC, via screenshot.

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Editor’s note: The following, which is for Editorial Board members only, first appeared in The Play Typer Guy, Stephen’s newsletter. –JS

The Times reported somewhat late that an upside-down American flag had flown outside Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s home in Alexandria, Virginia, less than two weeks after the January 6 Capitol attack. The so-called “Stop the Steal” movement adopted the inverted flag as a symbol in its war against democracy. Insurrectionists had brandished that symbol when storming the Capitol.

Concerned neighbors took photos of the shocking display, which the Times obtained more than three years later. It’s unclear what took so long. Did the neighbors use 1991 camera technology, where you have to drop the film off at a local CVS and then promptly forget about it? Obviously, Alito lives in a predominately white neighborhood where no one is a Black Twitter power user. Viral videos on social media have taken down countless racist “Karens” since 2021.

It’s not a surprise that Alito is a far-right maga hack, but flying an upside-down flag is a bit outré for a Supreme Court justice. When asked to comment, Alito told the Times, “I had no involvement whatsoever in the flying of the flag. It was briefly placed by Mrs. Alito in response to a neighbor’s use of objectionable and personally insulting language on yard signs.”

We also shouldn’t wait around for Alito’s colleagues on the Supreme Court to speak out, even the liberal members who perhaps most of all hold tight to the fantasy that the Supreme Court is an impartial branch of government and not simply an extension of the GOP’s political will.

I’m not sure what’s worse: That Alito callously blames his wife for this mess or that he doesn’t take an active interest in his wife’s home decor choices. Mrs. Alito went to a lot of trouble flipping the flag to flip off the neighbors. He probably never notices all her hard work in the garden either.

Alito spoke directly with Fox News Sunday anchor Shannon Bream about this — not the best move when you’re trying to appear an impartial jurist and not an embattled Republican politician who needs help from Fox’s rapid response special maga victims unit. He claims that a neighbor on their street had a “Fuck Trump” sign within 50 feet of where children wait for the school bus. Donald Trump himself is a confirmed sexual predator who shouldn’t be within 50 feet of children, but I don’t think a “Fuck Trump” sign will damage them emotionally.

Also public schools weren’t open yet in January 2021. They’d switched back exclusively to online learning in November 2020 and wouldn’t start phased reopening until March 2021. However, if you’ve read any of Alito’s jurisprudence, you’d know that he doesn’t let facts get in the way of his opinions. Anyway, Martha-Ann Alito brought up her concerns for the kids, and, Bream writes, “things escalated and the neighbor put up a sign personally addressing Mrs. Alito and blaming her for the Jan 6th attacks.”

Justice Alito says he and his wife were walking in the neighborhood and there were words between Mrs. Alito and a male at the home with the sign. Alito says the man engaged in vulgar language, “including the c-word.”

This is really unbelievable, by which I mean I don’t actually believe it. Someone really called Mrs. Alito a “cunt” (presuming that the “c-word” Alito means)? It’s like they’re living in a production of Glengarry Glen Ross. I’m not sure flag-trolling is the best response to someone who’s this angry and potentially unstable. Although, hanging a flag upside is traditionally considered “a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.”

Following that exchange, Mrs. Alito was distraught and hung the flag upside down “for a short time.” Justice Alito says some neighbors on his street are “very political” and acknowledges it was a very heated time in January 2021.

Alito doesn’t deny that the flag was purposely hung upside down or pretend he’s unaware of the larger political message. He says that his neighbors are “very political” without acknowledging that he’s extremely political himself and publicly expresses those opinions. In November 2020, he called covid-19 mitigation measures “unimaginable” restrictions on individual liberty (he’d later impose far worse and permanent restrictions on individual liberty when he overturned Roe v. Wade.) He whined some more about the marriage equality decision that he argued made everyone unfairly malign anti-gay bigots as, well, bigots. Yet proving this point, he later sold Bud Light stock during the anti-trans Dylan Mulvaney boycott.

It’s revealing that the Alitos thought adopting the “Stop-the-Steal” standard was a suitable response to their “very political” neighbors. If someone had called them Nazis, we can assume they wouldn’t have defiantly flown a Nazi flag. They clearly weren’t ashamed to associate themselves with the very people who’d sieged the Capitol or even with a movement that undermined faith in our electoral system. This was a year before Alito petulantly stated that mere citizens even questioning the court’s integrity crossed “an important line.”

Alito claims the period after January 6 was a “very heated time,” but that’s only if the Alitos still supported Trump, even after his coup attempt. Most liberals during this period would have commiserated with Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger, Mitt Romney or former Trump supporter Michael Fanone — all of whom had rightly rejected him. I doubt even Ann Romney would have objected over a “Fuck Trump” sign in January 2021. She might’ve been tempted to put up one herself.

Democrats put on their stern faces
Democrats seem very shocked and disappointed over Alito’s flag mishap. Senator Dick Durbin, chair of the Judiciary Committee, said, “That upside down flag was a symbol of the Big Lie. The attempt to steal the election and not admit that Joe Biden was elected. It’s time for him to do two things. First, a clear explanation of what happened and secondly, recuse himself from any case involving President Trump and his immunity from prosecution.”

Democratic House Leader Hakeem Jeffries agreed: “Samuel Alito should apologize immediately for disrespecting the American flag and sympathizing with right-wing violent insurrectionists. He must recuse himself from cases involving the 2020 election and former President Donald Trump.”

This is not simple partisan maneuvering. Alito admits that the flying the flag upside down, no matter how briefly, was an overt political statement, a clear violation of ethics rules. Justices are supposed to avoid “even the appearance of bias.” Of course, justices aren’t robed gods. They do have political opinions, and while it’s certainly more polite not to broadcast them, at least you know where you stand.

Trump’s crackpot Kraken lawyer Sidney Powell, who’s since pleaded guilty to coup-related crimes, had suggested that Alito would play a key role in helping overturn the election. “We were filing a 12th Amendment constitutional challenge to the process that the Congress was about to use under the Electoral Act provisions that simply don’t jive with the 12th Amendment to the United States Constitution,” Powell said in 2021. “And Justice Alito was our circuit justice for that.”

However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi literally saved democracy.

“She got notice when we made our filing because she wanted to file an amicus brief,” Powell said. “And everything broke loose and she really had to speed up reconvening Congress to get the vote going before Justice Alito might have issued an injunction to stop it all, which is what should have happened.”

It’s a wonder that Alitos didn’t fly their flag at half-mast.

There’s a comforting narrative that Donald Trump hijacked a noble Republican Party and empowered extremists such as Marjorie Taylor Greene. However, the truth is more that Trump radicalized an already corrupt institution. Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush nominated the two worst justices on the Supreme Court — Alito and Clarence Thomas. Both men are on board the Trump train. Thomas’s wife, Ginni, actively urged White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to do whatever it took the steal the election from Biden and keep Trump in office.

I think many mainstream elected Democrats struggle to accept this reality. They rightly condemned the January 6 insurrectionists and the “Stop-the-Steal” conspiracy theorists, but they probably never fully realized how far the rot went. Mainstream Democrats probably never imagined that Cheney and Kinzinger would be outliers after January 6. Democrats likely assumed that even Alito and Thomas were as horrified by Trump’s lawless coup attempt as they were. That was not the reality.

Alito isn’t going to resign or recuse himself from Trump-related cases. The Supreme Court remains unaccountable. However, Democrats still control the Senate and could hold hearings or investigations that would make Alito and Thomas uncomfortable. A mild private disagreement with a neighbor triggered the Alitos, so we can only imagine Alito’s response to a more public rebuke. However, Durbin is a chump, so it’s unlikely he’ll do anything more serious than issue a stern letter. There’s a special sort of learned helplessness on display when you see sitting Democratic senators on social media venting about the Alito situation like they’re two schmoes at a bar complaining about their boss.

We also shouldn’t wait around for Alito’s colleagues on the Supreme Court to speak out, even the liberal members who perhaps most of all hold tight to the fantasy that the Supreme Court is an impartial branch of government and not simply an extension of the GOP’s political will.

Stephen Robinson is the publisher of The Play Typer Guy, a newsletter and podcast about politics and the arts. Follow him @SER1897.

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