Democrats see Supreme Court crisis in second Alito flag controversy

Senate Democrats say a new revelation that an “Appeal to Heaven” flag, a symbol adopted by Jan. 6 protesters, flew at Justice Samuel Alito's beach house is the latest troubling sign that the conservative-leaning Supreme Court is “coming out of the hand has run its course' and pushing a “partisan” agenda.

Democrats say this is the latest sign that Alito and another conservative judge, Clarence Thomas, have cast aside decorum and judicial ethics and allowed their personal views and friendships to override any sense of obligation to avoid the appearance of bias or political favorability. to avoid.

“We have an out-of-control majority on the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, expressing a sentiment shared by other Democrats.

Democrats say the latest evidence of Alito's personal political views comes on top of bombshell reports published last year by ProPublica that he and Thomas accepted tens of thousands of dollars in gifts from wealthy conservatives who either directly had cases before the Supreme Court or benefited from them had with. usually from the decisions of the court.

“Frustration with the court in terms of it being illegitimate is extremely high,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), who met with voters in nine different counties over the weekend.

“Compared to twenty years ago, you've never really heard of it. “There was a sense that the court was above politics, that they were playing ball and sticking it out, and that's completely gone,” he said. “It has been so accentuated by recent events.”

A Thursday report from The New York Times that a white flag with a green pine tree, which has become a symbol of a Christian-leaning government, flew outside Alito's vacation home in 2023 sparked new alarm among Democrats.

These Democrats increasingly see the Supreme Court as shamelessly political.

The news came just days after the Times reported that an upside-down flag — a symbol of the “Stop the Steal” movement — was displayed at Alito's home after the 2020 election, prompting angry Democrats to call on Alito to stand down sidestep a pending Supreme Court decision on whether Trump should be immune from federal prosecution.

Merkley said the stories about the flags will fuel calls to reform the Supreme Court, either by expanding the number of justices or rotating justices to maintain the court's ideological balance. He also cited the court's inability to adopt a binding ethics code after reports that Alito and Thomas had accepted lavish gifts from wealthy conservative benefactors.

“Is there increasing political momentum toward court reform? Absolutely yes,” he said.

News of the 'Appeal to Heaven' flag struck some senators on the same day the Supreme Court issued a 6-3 ruling to allow South Carolina to keep in place a congressional map that a lower court found to be an unconstitutional racial gerrymander had considered.

Alito told the Times that his wife raised an upside-down American flag on his lawn after getting into an argument with a neighbor who had placed an anti-Trump sign on their property.

But news of the “Appeal to Heaven” flag, which pro-Trump protesters waved on the east side of the Capitol on the same day they overran Capitol Police to block the certification of President Biden's election victory to hold, makes Democrats doubt whether the reverse situation The flag incident at Alito's house was a one-off event.

“The first example of the American flag in emergency mode [Alito] dismissed as an accidental indiscretion by his wife, who was emotional over a confrontation with a neighbor. The second one really shows a pattern,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).

“This is not an accidental indiscretion. This is a conscious decision by the Alito family to advertise their political sentiments. That does not help the Supreme Court in any way, and it should accept the responsibility to absolve itself from cases involving the Trump administration,” Durbin said, referring to the appeal the Supreme Court is now considering on whether Trump should be immune should be subject to prosecution. for all crimes involving official acts.

Durbin called on Alito to withdraw last week after hearing the upside-down flag was flying at his home.

He said Thursday that the second Alito-related flag incident requires a response from Congress and insisted that Supreme Court ethics legislation should come to the Senate this year.

“That's a must,” he said. “It should be called. At the very least, we need to establish an ethical standard and a standard for refusal.”

Durbin is pushing for a vote on the Supreme Court's Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act, which would require Supreme Court justices to adopt a binding code of conduct and establish a mechanism to investigate alleged violations of that code or other laws.

'Simply terrible'

Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) called the latest flag incident “just terrible.”

“It is his responsibility as a Supreme Court justice to be able to make decisions without fear or favor, without favoritism. And yet he's waving flags that clearly indicate to someone that he thinks the election was stolen. He must withdraw himself immediately,” she said. “We need to look at this.”

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said he was disturbed by the feeling that Alito or someone close to him appeared to be advocating for more “religiosity” in government by flying flags embraced by Christian nationalists.

“A Supreme Court judge has a special duty to avoid the appearance of any kind of bias, and I think he has already failed on that point. And second, the constitution stipulates that the government may not establish any official religion,” he added.

“Not only is he comfortable with religion in government, he is comfortable with a very specific kind of religiosity. It is concerning,” Schatz said. “He's just acting like a partisan, and many of us come to that conclusion with regret and don't want to be the kind of members of Congress who constantly insult conservative judges, but he has crossed some lines here. ”

Even prominent Senate Republicans criticized the display of an inverted Stars and Stripes as “lacking good judgment” and “unwise.”

'It is not a wise judgment to do that. He said his wife was offended and became angry. I guess that's true, but he's still a Supreme Court justice, and people need to realize that [at] At times like this, we have to think about it,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, told reporters on Monday.

Graham said he was less disturbed by the historic “Appeal to Heaven” flag, which dates to the Revolutionary War.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was unaware of the message about the “Appeal to Heaven” flag at Alito's beach house, but said flying an upside-down American flag is not appropriate.

“I'm not an expert on legal ethics, but it seems unwise to me for the upside-down American flag to be flown at his home,” she said.

Some Republicans, most notably Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), have sided with Alito in calling on Democrats to stop criticizing the court.

Asked about the upside-down flag at Alito's home, McConnell told reporters on Tuesday: “It seems to me that there's just non-stop attacks on the Supreme Court, week after week after week. So I'm not going to dignify that with a response.”

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

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