Supreme Court Justice Alito’s House Displayed a ‘Stop the Steal’ Flag After Jan. 6

Supreme Court Justice Alito’s House Displayed a ‘Stop the Steal’ Flag After Jan. 6

After the 2020 presidential election, when some Trump supporters falsely claimed that President Biden had stolen the office, many of them displayed a startling symbol outside their homes, on their cars and in online posts: an upside-down American flag.

One of the homes displaying an inverted flag at the time was the residence of Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. in Alexandria, Virginia, according to photos and interviews with neighbors.

The upside down flag flew on January 17, 2021, the images showed. President Donald J. Trump’s supporters, including some wearing the same symbol, had rioted at the Capitol just over a week earlier. Mr Biden’s inauguration was still three days away. Alarmed neighbors took photos, some of which were recently obtained by The New York Times. News of the flag reached the courthouse, people who worked there said in interviews.

While the flag was up, the court was still grappling with the question of whether to hear a case about the 2020 election, with Justice Alito the loser in that decision. In the coming weeks, the justices will decide two crucial cases related to the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol, including whether Mr. Trump enjoys immunity for his actions. Their decisions will determine how he can be held accountable for trying to overturn the last presidential election and his chances of re-election in the upcoming election.

“I was not involved at all in the raising of the flag,” Justice Alito said in an email statement to the Times. “It was briefly placed on yard signs by Ms. Alito in response to a neighbor’s use of offensive and personally offensive language.”

Justice experts said in interviews that the flag represents a clear violation of ethics rules that seek to avoid even the appearance of bias and could raise doubts about Judge Alito’s impartiality in cases related to the election and the Capitol insurrection.

The mere impression of a political opinion could be a problem, the ethics experts said. “It could be his spouse or someone else living in his house, but he shouldn’t have it in his yard as his message to the world,” said Amanda Frost, a law professor at the University of Virginia.

This is “the equivalent of putting a ‘Stop the Steal’ sign in your yard, which is a problem when deciding election-related cases,” she said.

Interviews show that the judge’s wife, Martha-Ann Alito, had argued with another family on the block over an anti-Trump sign on their lawn, but given the timing and clarity of the symbol, neighbors interpreted the upside-down flag as one political statement by the couple.

The longstanding Code of Ethics for the lower courts, as well as the Code of Ethics recently adopted by the Supreme Court, emphasize the need for judges to remain independent and avoid political statements or opinions on matters that may be brought before them.

“You always want to proactively create the appearance of impartiality,” Jeremy Fogel, a former federal judge and director of the Berkeley Judicial Institute, said in an interview. “The best course of action would be to make sure there is nothing like this in front of your house.”

The court has also repeatedly warned its own employees against public expressions of partisan views, according to guidelines distributed to employees and reviewed by The Times. Posting signs or bumper stickers is not permitted, according to the court’s internal rules and a 2022 memo reaffirming the ban on political activity.

When asked whether these rules also apply to judges, the court declined to answer.

The exact length of time the flag flew in front of the Alito residence is unclear. In a Jan. 18, 2021, email reviewed by The Times, a neighbor wrote to a relative that the flag had been upside down for several days at that point.

In recent years, his street’s quiet sanctuary has seen conflict with residents who are Republicans and Democrats, neighbors said. About the 2020 election, A family on the block displayed an anti-Trump sign with a curse word. It apparently offended Ms. Alito and, according to interviews, led to an escalating conflict between her and the family.

Some residents also responded to the noise and intrusion of protesters outside the Alito residence in 2022 after the Supreme Court struck down federal abortion rights. Other neighbors joined the protesters, whose intent was to “broadcast the protest into their private lives because the decisions affect our private lives,” said Heather-Ann Irons, who took to the streets to protest.

The half dozen neighbors who saw or knew about the flag requested anonymity because they said they did not want to increase tensions in the bloc and feared reprisals. Last Saturday, May 11, protesters returned to the streets, waving their own flags (“Tread on My Uterus”) and using a megaphone to send profanities at Judge Alito, who was giving an inaugural address in Ohio. Ms. Alito appeared in a window and complained to the Supreme Court security detail outside.

Historians have said in interviews that flipping the American flag was a symbol of distress and distress and was initially used as a military distress signal. In recent decades, it has been increasingly used as a political protest symbol – a contentious issue because the flag code and military tradition require respectful use of the United States’ highest symbol.

Over the years, upside down flags have been flown by both the right and the left in protest over a range of issues, including the Vietnam War, gun violence, the Supreme Court’s repeal of the constitutional right to abortion, and, most notably, election results. In 2012, Tea Party supporters flipped flags on their homes to signal their displeasure with President Barack Obama’s re-election. Four years later, some liberals suggested doing the same after Mr. Trump’s election.

During Mr. Trump’s push to win and then undermine the 2020 election, the gesture became more widespread than ever before, “really establishing itself as a symbol of the ‘Stop the Steal’ campaign,” said Alex Newhouse, a researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder.

A flurry of social media posts exhorted Trump supporters to flip their flags or buy new ones to display upside down.

“When January 6th rolls around and Biden is confirmed by the Electoral College, our nation is in distress!!!” One poster wrote on, a forum for Trump supporters, receiving over a thousand upvotes. “If you can’t go to the DC rally, you must do your duty and show your support for our President by flying the flag upside down!!!!”

Local newspapers from Lexington, Kentucky, to Sun City, Arizona, to North Jersey reported on the flags appearing nearby. A few days before the inauguration, a Senate candidate in Minnesota flew an upside-down flag on his campaign vehicle.

Hanging an upside-down flag in front of a home is “a clear sign that you are part of this community that believes America has been conquered and must be reconquered,” Mr. Newhouse said.

This spring, many Americans already suspect that the decisions they make in the January 6 cases will be partisan. Justice Clarence Thomas refused to recuse himself, even though his wife, Virginia Thomas, was directly involved in the effort to overturn the election.

Now, with decisions in the Jan. 6 cases expected in just a few weeks, a similar debate over Justice Alito could unfold, ethics experts said. “It’s really a matter of appearance and the potential impact on the public’s trust in the court,” Mr. Fogel said. “I think it would be better for the court if he were not involved in cases related to the 2020 election. But I’m pretty sure he’ll see it differently.”

If Justice Alito were on a different court, Mr. Fogel said, the flag could also trigger some kind of review to determine whether there was wrongdoing. But because the Supreme Court acts as an arbiter of its own conduct, “there’s really no place to take it,” he said.

Aric Toler contributed reporting. Julie Tate contributed to the research.

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2024-05-17 00:04:22