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Front Page Talking Points


Justice Samuel Alito adds two flags to Supreme Court ethics storms


1.gifPick a quote from an editorial, column or reader letter about the top court. Tell why you agree or don't.

2.gifSummarize another report from Washington.

3.gifShare two facts from different legal news.

A new cloud hangs over the U.S. Supreme Court after two revelations raise questions about Justice Samuel Alito's ability to consider Jan. 6 election interference cases impartially. The New York Times reported that an American flag flew upside down outside Justice Alito's home in Virginia a few days after the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, a time when that signaled support for a "Stop the Steal" movement seeking to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory over Donald Trump. In a follow-up, the paper showed an "Appeal to Heaven" flag hoisted outside the couple's New Jersey vacation home last summer. That symbol, carried by Jan. 6 rioters, is associated with a push for a more Christian-focused government. Alito (pronounced uh·LEE·tow) said his wife, Martha-Ann, raised the flags and had a free speech right to do so.

Two senior Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee asked to meet with Chief Justice John Roberts to address "the Supreme Court's ethics crisis." Alito created "reasonable doubt as to his impartiality," wrote Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, who and repeated calls for him to step aside in cases related to Trump and the Jan. 6 violence. Alito last week declined to do so in two pending cases, saying the flag displays "do not meet the conditions for recusal [stepping aside]."

A federal judge in Massachusetts, Michael Posner, criticizes Alito bluntly in a New York Times guest column: "Any judge with reasonable ethical instincts would have realized immediately that flying the [upside-down] flag then and in that way was improper. And dumb. . . . The same goes for the flying of an 'Appeal to Heaven' flag." A 14-page ethics code, adopted last fall to "guide the conduct" of Supreme Court members, says that a justice should "act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary." The court issued its guidelines after a series of ethical conduct controversies, including luxury trips and other expensive gifts accepted by Justice Clarence Thomas. More recently, Thomas has ignored calls to recuse himself from Jan. 6 cases despite his spouse's connection to the protest movement. Sen. Durbin says Alito's response last week "clearly demonstrates why the Supreme Court needs an enforceable code of conduct."

Alito says: "My wife is fond of flying flags. I am not." – Response to Democratic senators, May 29

Federal judge says: "Displaying the [upside-down] flag in that way, at that time, shouldn't have happened." – Michael Posner, U.S. District Court in Massachusetts

Congressman says: "The highest court in the land has the lowest ethical standards — no binding ethics code or process outside of personal reflection. Each justice decides whether he or she can be impartial." – Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.

Front Page Talking Points is written by Alan Stamm for, Copyright 2024

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Common Core State Standard
SL.CCS.1/2/3/4 Grades 6-12: An essay of a current news event is provided for discussion to encourage participation, but also inspire the use of evidence to support logical claims using the main ideas of the article. Students must analyze background information provided about a current event within the news, draw out the main ideas and key details, and review different opinions on the issue. Then, students should present their own claims using facts and analysis for support.