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US Supreme Court’s Samuel Alito rejects calls to recuse himself from Trump cases over flag controversy


US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito told lawmakers he will not recuse himself from cases involving Donald Trump and the January 6 Capitol riot after revelations that flags associated with far-right causes flew over his homes in Virginia and New Jersey.

Responding to Democratic calls that he disqualify himself, Alito said in two letters that his wife, Martha-Ann Alito, was responsible for flying the flags.

“My wife is an independently minded private citizen,” he wrote. “She makes her own decisions, and I honour her right to do so.”

The court is set to decide by the end of June whether Trump is immune from criminal charges that he illegally tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election. In a second case that could have implications for the Trump prosecution, the justices are also weighing an appeal by a man charged with being part of the Capitol assault.

The New York Times reported that an upside-down American flag was displayed at Alito’s Virginia house in the days before US President Joe Biden’s inauguration. More recently, an “Appeal to Heaven” flag flew at Alito’s beach residence in New Jersey, the Times said. Similar flags were carried by January 6 rioters.

US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and his wife, Martha-Ann Alito, pay their respects at the casket of Reverend Billy Graham at the Rotunda of the US Capitol Building in February 2018. Photo: AP

“My wife is fond of flying flags. I am not,” Alito wrote to Democratic lawmakers including Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia.

“She was solely responsible for having flagpoles put up at our residence and our vacation home and has flown a wide variety of flags over the years.”

Alito said his wife flew the upside-down flag during a “very nasty neighbourhood dispute” during which a house displayed a sign personally attacking her and a man directed a vile epithet at her. He said he asked Martha-Ann Alito to take down the flag as soon as he saw it, “but for several days, she refused”.

He said he presumed his wife was expressing a patriotic and religious message with the “Appeal to Heaven” flag and that neither Alito was aware of any connection to the “Stop the Steal Movement.”

Johnson, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary subcommittee that oversees federal courts, said Alito’s response underscored the need for Congress to impose an enforceable code of conduct on the Supreme Court. The code adopted by the Supreme Court in November doesn’t include any enforcement mechanism.

“Any unbiased and reasonable person would find laughable Justice Alito’s ‘the dog ate my homework, and I didn’t even know I had homework’ defence,” Johnson said in an emailed statement.

Alito, 74, is one of the anchors of the conservative wing that controls the Supreme Court. Two years ago, he wrote the court’s opinion overturing the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling and eliminating the constitutional right to abortion.



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