POLITICS & ELECTIONS

Democratic senators request meeting with Chief Justice Roberts over flags flown at Alito’s homes

May 24, 2024, 5:06 PM

FILE - Associate Justice Samuel Alito joins other members of the Supreme Court as they pose for a n...

FILE - Associate Justice Samuel Alito joins other members of the Supreme Court as they pose for a new group portrait, Oct. 7, 2022, at the Supreme Court building in Washington. Alito said in an interview he gave to the Wall Street Journal opinion pages, published Friday, July 28, 2023, that Congress lacks the power to impose a code of ethics on the Supreme Court, making him the first member of the court to take a public stand against proposals in Congress to toughen ethics rules for justices in response to scrutiny of their activities beyond the bench. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two Democratic senators are requesting a meeting with Chief Justice John Roberts after reports that two separate flags carried by rioters at the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol had flown outside of houses owned by Justice Samuel Alito.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., a member of the Judiciary panel, wrote Roberts on Thursday asking him for a meeting to discuss Supreme Court ethics and to take steps to ensure that Alito recuses himself from any cases before the court concerning the Jan. 6 attack or former President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat.

“We request a meeting with you as soon as possible, in your capacity as Chief Justice and as presiding officer of the Judicial Conference of the United States, to discuss additional steps to address the Supreme Court’s ethics crisis,” Durbin and Whitehouse wrote to Roberts in a letter released Friday by both offices.

The senators’ letter comes as another conservative justice, Clarence Thomas, has ignored calls to recuse himself from cases related to the 2020 election over his wife, Ginni Thomas’, support for Trump and as public trust in the Supreme Court is at its lowest point in at least 50 years.

The court did not respond to a request for comment regarding the letter.

The Supreme Court says it is adopting a code of ethics for the first time

The court is considering two major cases related to the Capitol attack, including charges faced by the rioters and whether Trump has immunity from prosecution on election interference charges. Alito is participating in both cases and has rejected calls from Democrats in the past to recuse in on other issues.

The New York Times reported last week that an inverted American flag was seen at Alito’s home outside Washington less than two weeks after the attack on the Capitol. This week the paper reported that an “ Appeal to Heaven ” flag was flown outside of the justice’s beach home in New Jersey last summer. Both flags were carried by rioters who violently stormed the Capitol in January 2021 echoing Trump’s false claims of election fraud.

Alito has said the inverted American flag was flown by his wife amid a dispute with neighbors, and he had no part in it. He and the court declined to respond to requests for comment on how the “Appeal to Heaven” flag came to be flying and what it was intended to express.

Judicial ethics codes focus on the need for judges to be independent, avoiding political statements or opinions on matters they could be called on to decide. The Supreme Court had long gone without its own code of ethics, but it adopted one in November 2023 in the face of sustained criticism over undisclosed trips and gifts from wealthy benefactors to some justices.

The code lacks a means of enforcement, though, and the Judiciary panel approved legislation last year that would set stricter standards. But Republicans have been staunchly opposed to any efforts to tell the court what to do.

Durbin and Whitehouse said they will continue to pressure the court. But the appeal for a meeting is a new approach after Roberts declined to testify at a hearing on Supreme Court ethics last year.

“Until the Court and the Judicial Conference take meaningful action to address this ongoing ethical crisis, we will continue our efforts to enact legislation to resolve this crisis,” they wrote.

___

Associated Press writers Mark Sherman and Lindsey Whitehurst contributed to this report.

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Democratic senators request meeting with Chief Justice Roberts over flags flown at Alito’s homes