Republican senators defend Alito over second controversial flag

Top Republican senators are defending Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito as the conservative justice became embroiled in a second flag controversy, even as some Democrats call for Alito to recuse himself from key matters pending before the high court.

The flag – which was flown outside Alito’s vacation home in New Jersey – is known as the “Appeal to Heaven.” Its history dates to the Revolutionary War, but it has become a symbol for supporters of former President Donald Trump and was on display during the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.

Sen. John Cornyn, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee and is vying to be the next Senate GOP leader, argued that the left is targeting Alito because of his positions.

“I just think Democrats are determined to harass members of the Supreme Court. I don’t see them criticizing Sotomayor, Kagan, or others. So obviously, they don’t like Justice Alito or the decisions he makes,” he told CNN. “And this is just part of long-standing harassment of the courts, going back to when Clarence Thomas was — talked about a high-tech lynching during his confirmation process.”

He added, “People who are judges on the Supreme Courts have personal lives, they have families, and I don’t think they’re necessarily responsible for everything their families do or say.”

GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is also on the Judiciary Committee, agreed, saying that there were not the same accusations of political bias after liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor published her book.

“I’m not going to address the particular issue, but the word ‘political’ comes up, and you brought it up. And I think it’s appropriate for us to say that on the side of issues that come up with the Supreme Court, they seem to be coming up now, very frequently from the left, and it seems to me that those same issues were not raised. It was Sotomayor, as an example, on her book,” he said.

Grassley added that the Supreme Court has recently changed its ethics protocols, and that it can handle issues of recusal internally: “The Supreme Court has their new protocols, so we ought to wait and see how that works out.”

The revelation over the “Appeal to Heaven” flag outside Alito’s vacation home, which was reported by the New York Times, comes on the heels of earlier reporting from the Times that an upside-down American flag – a symbol used by some supporters of Trump who challenged the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s 2020 victory – hung outside Alito’s home after the election.

Several prominent Republican senators criticized Alito over the upside-down flag.

On Thursday, GOP Sen. Thom Tillis acknowledged that it was “probably not wise,” for Alito to have the “Appeal to Heaven” flag or the upside-down American flag outside his home.

“When you’re a public figure, you do need to pay attention to what’s out there. I’m not gonna — I think it’s overplayed in the press,” he said. “But I think that, you know, that’s what happens when you’re a public figure, whether you’re in the judiciary or the US Senate.”

Tillis added that he also believes justices appointed by Democratic presidents do not receive the same scrutiny Alito faced. “If we’re going to be intellectually honest about it, let’s take a look at every instance where there’s a whiff of sort of a political or ideological motivation. And I — where do you want to start? Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Kagan, I mean, there’s any number of instances where maybe they should have not waded into the political, but they do from time to time,” he said.

GOP Sen. Bill Cassidy accused the Times of bias over its reporting, noting that the American flag incident happened three years ago. “What’s the latest version? What’s reasonable? I think that that would dictate how we go forward,” he said.

Cassidy also dismissed calls for Alito to recuse himself from the Trump immunity case, saying “yes,” he believes the justice can rule impartially.

In contrast, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that Alito should “absolutely” recuse himself.

“I think the question is how many MAGA battle flags does the Supreme Court justice have to fly until the rest of the court takes it seriously?” he asked.

House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries on Thursday said Alito must recuse himself from any matter pending before the Supreme Court that has to do with the January 6 insurrection.

“It is totally inappropriate,” Jeffries said of the news reports. “In the case of Samuel Alito, he definitively needs to recuse himself from any matter pending before the United States Supreme Court that has to do with the January 6 violent insurrection. He should have no part of it,” he added.

House Democratic Whip Katherine Clark on Thursday also called on Alito to recuse himself from any cases that involve the January 6 attack, Trump and election integrity.

“This is a threat to the rule of law and a serious breach of ethics, integrity, and Justice Alito’s oath of office,” Clark said in a statement.

“At minimum, he must recuse himself from any cases involving January 6th, Donald Trump, and the security of our elections. Anything less will tarnish our judicial system and democracy,” Clark added.

CNN’s Haley Talbot and Annie Grayer contributed to this report.

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at