Daily Herald opinion: Latest Alito headlines further erode trust in Supreme Court

On Tuesday, we welcomed a Supreme Court decision that appeared to rise above partisan political concerns. In the wake of a New York Times story last week involving Justice Samuel Alito, we are getting a lesson in how harmful it is to public confidence when politics infects the court.

News that an upside-down American flag flew at Alito’s home days after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol further erodes Americans’ trust in the High Court, whose approval ratings hover near record lows.

And understandably so: The Alito story is disturbing on a number of levels, even as it joins a growing list of revelations that support the need for an enforceable code of conduct for the Supreme Court.

The most recent controversy came to light when The Times published a photo of the upside-down flag — a symbol tied to former President Donald Trump’s dangerous and false 2020 election fraud claims — that was taken on Jan. 17, 2021, at the Alitos’ Virginia home. A neighbor said it hung for more than a day.

The news led Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, to call on Alito this week to recuse himself from any cases involving the 2020 election and the Jan. 6 riot that followed.

“Flying an upside-down American flag — a symbol of the so-called ‘Stop the Steal’ movement — clearly creates the appearance of bias,” Durbin said in a statement.

Alito’s response? He said he had “no involvement whatsoever in the flying of the flag.”

“It was briefly placed by Mrs. Alito in response to a neighbor’s use of objectionable and personally insulting language on yard signs,” Alito said in a statement emailed to The New York Times.

That Alito blamed his wife should just add to the outrage.

Yes, Martha-Ann Alito has a right to her own opinions. This issue is not — and should never be — about silencing women to protect their high-profile husbands. A judicial career, however, especially one on the highest court in the land, must hold to a different standard. The spouses of supreme court justices — wives and husbands — must understand that those who serve have an ethical duty to avoid political statements as well as opinions on issues that may be tied to cases before them. Hanging a political symbol from a shared home runs counter to the belief that justices should be impartial.

And if Mrs. Alito did not see that, her husband, George W. Bush’s nominee nearly two decades ago, surely should have made that clear.

Alito isn’t alone in questions about whether he can be impartial on cases related to the 2020 election. Fellow conservative Clarence Thomas has ignored similar calls related to his wife, Ginni, who was part of the effort to overturn President Joe Biden’s election victory and attended the Jan. 6, 2021, rally prior to the Capitol riot.

Our Tuesday editorial praised the court’s recent ruling on a consumer watchdog agency, noting the 7-2 vote did not adhere to the usual conservatives vs. liberals breakdown. Our support was not tied to the case itself, but rather to how politics took a back seat to the law.

Law, not politics, should pave the path forward as the Supreme Court considers key cases related to Jan. 6, including whether Trump has immunity on charges of election interference.

Rulings from those cases will have massive repercussions for our nation. And Alito and Thomas should not be a part of them.

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