House Dems Ask John Roberts If Sam Alito's Flag Mess Violated The Court's Ethics Rules

WASHINGTON ― Democrats on the House judiciary committee on Wednesday asked Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to weigh in on whether Justice Samuel Alito violated the court’s code of ethics when he flew flags at two separate residences that were the same as those carried by insurrectionists who attacked the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

They also asked Roberts how, exactly, he plans to enforce the Supreme Court’s code of conduct given that it has no teeth.

“Recent reports indicate that Justice Samuel Alito displayed a flag indicating support for the so-called ‘Stop the Steal’ movement a mere eleven days after the January 6, 2021 attack on the United States Capitol,” reads a letter to Roberts signed by House judiciary committee ranking member Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and all 17 other Democrats on the panel.

“This incident, which Justice Alito has largely confirmed, constitutes both public participation in political activity and the appearance of the absence of impartiality in violation of Canons 5 and 3 of the Code of Conduct,” the letter says.

Canon 5 of the court’s code states that a justice “should not... publicly endorse or oppose a candidate for public office.” Canon 3(B)(2) of the code says that a justice “should disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the Justice’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, that is, where an unbiased and reasonable person who is aware of all relevant circumstances would doubt that the Justice could fairly discharge his or her duties.”

“Any reasonable person, knowing that Justice Alito has repeatedly and openly expressed his support for the former president ― including in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the Capitol ― would rightly question his ability to remain impartial in any case involving Donald Trump,” the House Democrats wrote to Roberts.

Here’s a copy of their letter:

Last week, top Democrats on the Senate judiciary committee asked Roberts to meet with them “as soon as possible” to talk about Alito’s flag mess. Democrats in both chambers have now demanded that Alito recuse himself from any case before the court relating to Trump or the Jan. 6 attempted coup.

But Alito shot down their demands earlier on Wednesday, saying he’s not recusing himself from anything. He blamed his wife for the presence of the flags.

“My wife and I own our Virginia home jointly,” Alito wrote to Senate Democrats. “She therefore has the legal right to use the property as she sees fit, and there were no additional steps that I could have taken to have the flag taken down more promptly.”

In the same letter, the Supreme Court justice said that a flag bearing the motto “An Appeal to Heaven,” which was seen flying at Alito’s beach house in New Jersey in 2023, was also his wife’s decision.

The only real recourse Democrats have, apart from trying to pass a Supreme Court ethics bill that has no chance of making it through this Congress, is to try to subpoena Alito to appear before the Senate judiciary committee and explain his ethics problems. The committee chairman, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), has the authority to do this, but has not tried to do so.

Durbin wouldn’t be able to do this unilaterally, though. He’d need the top Republican on the committee to sign off, which would not happen in this case, or a majority vote in the committee. It’s not clear if all 10 Democrats on the committee would vote to do this.

Last week, a spokesperson for the Senate judiciary committee declined to tell HuffPost whether Durbin is prepared to try to subpoena Alito for not recusing himself from these cases. Instead, the spokesperson suggested that Durbin is focused on taking legislative action.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee has been investigating the ethical crisis at the Court for more than a year, and that investigation continues,” the spokesperson said. “And Chair Durbin remains focused on ensuring the Supreme Court adopts an enforceable code of conduct, which Congress can do by passing the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act.”