Justice Samuel Alito's Wife's Explanation for Upside-Down Flag

justice samuel alito's wife's explanation for upside-down flag

Samuel Alito is sworn in as Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court as his wife Martha-Ann holds a bible during a ceremony in the East Room at the White House February 1, 2006, in Washington, DC.

In an article published on Saturday by The Washington Post, it was revealed that conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's wife Martha-Ann Alito told the newspaper in January 2021 that the upside-down American flag that once flew outside the Alito home was a "signal of distress."

The Context

Last week, The New York Times published a photo of an upside-down American flag that was taken outside Alito's Virginia home on January 17, 2021.

The inverted flag was flown 11 days after Trump's supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden's 2020 election win. The riot erupted following Trump's claims that the election was stolen from him through widespread voter fraud, despite no evidence. Many Trump supporters displayed an upside-down American flag in the wake of his 2020 election loss as a sign of protest.

Justice Alito told the Times that he had "no involvement whatsoever in the flying of the flag," saying his wife "briefly" put up the inverted flag "in response to a neighbor's use of objectionable and personally insulting language on yard signs."

What We Know

After now-retired Washington Post reporter Robert Barnes received a tip about the flag, he decided to pay the Alitos a visit on January 20, 2021—the day of Joe Biden's inauguration, which the justice and his wife did not attend, according to the Post's Saturday article.

When Barnes confronted the Alitos while they were coming out of their house, Martha-Ann Alito looked visibly upset and told him to "get off my property."

The justice's wife yelled, "It's an international signal of distress!" when Barnes probed about the flag.

Justice Alito told Barnes that the inverted flag was not a form of political protest.

The Post did not report the incident at the time because the flag appeared to be Martha-Ann Alito's doing and it seemed to be about a neighborly dispute without a clear connection to politics, according to a Post spokeswoman cited in Saturday's article.

Newsweek reached out to the Supreme Court via online form for comment from Alito.

Views

The Times' report from last week drew criticism, with some Republicans, who have been critical of Trump, slamming the inverted flag.

Alyssa Farah Griffin, former White House director of strategic communications under Trump who spoke to the January 6 House select committee in its investigation, wrote on X, formerly Twitter: "US flag code states the American flag should not be flown upside down except as a symbol of dire national distress. That a SCOTUS Justice would allow this to be displayed at his home days before a peaceful, lawful transition of power is deeply disturbing."

In a follow-up post, Griffin who is currently a co-host on ABC's The View and a Trump critic, wrote, "My conservative friends: imagine for a minute if Justice [Sonia] Sotomayor displayed an upside down flag at her residence when Trump won in 2016. There would outrage & calls for her resignation."

Adam Kinzinger, a former GOP congressman from Illinois who was one of two Republicans to serve on the January 6 committee, wrote on X that the inverted flag outside Alito's home is "a huge issue."

Meanwhile, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, bashed Alito's critics and even called for her fellow Americans to fly their flags upside-down.

On Wednesday, she wrote on X: "Democrats declared war on us and weaponized the full power of the justice system the minute they took power."

She added: "They are trying to lock Trump up for life, are prosecuting over 400 Republicans across the country for fighting for election integrity in 2020, and are putting thousands of people in jail for protesting the 2020 election on January 6, 2020. Now Democrats are going after Justice Alito for an upside down flag being flown at his house. WE SHOULD ALL BE FLYING THE FLAG UPSIDE DOWN!!!"

What's Next?

The reports from the Times and the Post come as the Supreme Court's decision on Trump's presidential immunity claim for his alleged actions surrounding the Capitol riot is pending. In April, the Court heard arguments on a claim by Trump that he has immunity from prosecution because he was still in office during the riot.

Trump is facing four federal felony counts for his alleged actions surrounding the riot: conspiracy to defraud the United States; conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding; obstruction of and attempt to obstruct an official proceeding; and conspiracy against rights. Trump has pleaded not guilty to all charges and claimed that the case is politically motivated.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, has recently come under pressure to investigate Alito after the flag incident, but he told reporters on Monday, "I don't think there's much to be gained with a hearing at this point."

However, Durbin did advise Alito to "recuse himself from cases involving Trump and his administration."

Update 5/25/24, 12:44 p.m. ET: This article has been updated with additional information.

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