Roberts faces calls to press Alito for recusal

House Judiciary Committee Democrats asked Chief Justice John Roberts to detail how the Supreme Court plans to enforce its code of conduct, arguing Justice Samuel Alito violated its policies by raising flags connected to the “Stop the Steal” effort at his two homes.

The group accuses Alito of violating one provision that bars justices from endorsing a candidate for office and another that requires recusal when their “impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

The code of conduct was adopted last year in the wake of another Supreme Court scandal documenting Justice Clarence Thomas’s acceptance of numerous vacations, gifts, and even payment of school tuition for a relative from a conservative mega donor.

Alito rejects calls to recuse himself from Jan. 6 cases over flags controversy

“Adopting a code of ethics and failing to enforce [it] only serves to reinforce the perception that Supreme Court justices operate without consequences for clearly unethical behavior,” ranking member Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and the committee’s Democrats wrote in the letter.

“Do you plan to request Justice Alito recuse himself from any cases related to Donald Trump? If not, why not?”

The panel likewise asks Roberts to detail when he learned of Alito’s displaying of flags.

The letter comes just hours after Alito rejected calls in the Senate for him to rescue himself from a pending case weighing whether former President Trump retains presidential immunity for actions he took in the lead up to Jan. 6.

Shortly after the 2020 election, Alito flew an upside-down American flag, a symbol historically used to signal distress that was also used by those protesting former Trump’s loss and that later became associated with the “Stop the Steal” movement, which tried to prevent the transfer of presidential power based on false claims of election fraud.

And in 2023 at his vacation home in New Jersey, he flew an “Appeal to Heaven” flag — which though it has origins in the Revolutionary War, has more recently served as a call for a conservative, Biblical-centered government and was spotted in the mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“While upside down flags can have other meanings, it is difficult to contemplate a situation in which Justice Alito’s inverted flag had any meaning other than to convey political support for Donald Trump,” the letter states.

Alito said Wednesday it was his wife’s decision to raise the flag at their home, saying she has a “legal right to use the property as she sees fit” and describing her as “fond of flying flags.”

He also confirmed reporting from The New York Times that the couple was engaged in a spat with neighbors. The article separately reported that the feud was over yard signs posted following the election that were critical of Trump. Alito also told Fox News on Wednesday that the display included a “F‑‑‑ Trump” sign.

Democrats say the tit-for-tat over the signage is itself problematic.

“He has since acknowledged that this yard sign conveyed strong anti-Trump sentiment, implying that the Alitos felt the need to respond with a show of support for Donald Trump,” their letter states.

Last year, Thomas also faced calls for his recusal over the involvement of his wife, Virginia, in the push to overturn the 2020 election results. Like Alito, Thomas has declined to step aside.

The Supreme Court did not immediately respond to request for comment Wednesday.

The letter nonetheless asks Roberts to weigh a number of questions about the court’s code of conduct, including how he plans to enforce them, given that no mechanism for doing so is laid out in the policy.

“Has this incident encouraged you to reconsider the absence of an enforcement mechanism in the Code of Conduct for Supreme Court Justices has no enforcement mechanism?” they ask.

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