Alito doubts US right and left can co-exist and wife criticizes Pride flag in secret recording

<span>Samuel Alito and his wife Martha at the capitol in Washington DC on 28 February 2018.</span><span>Photograph: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images</span>
Samuel Alito and his wife Martha at the capitol in Washington DC on 28 February 2018.Photograph: Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

Samuel Alito, the US supreme justice at the center of a flag controversy that has called his impartiality into question, has said one side of the US’s bitter left v right ideological conflicts has to prevail, in secretly recorded remarks that are likely to exacerbate concerns about judicial neutrality.

In unguarded comments made to a film-maker posing as a conservative, Alito – one of the court’s most conservative justices – also agreed with the assertion that the US had to be “returned to a place of godliness”.

His wife, Martha-Ann Alito, was also recorded making critical comments about the gay pride flag.

The Alitos were recently revealed to have flown an upside-down US flag, symbolizing the Stop the Steal movement that attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 election in favor of Donald Trump, outside their home only weeks after the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

The couple shared their sentiments with Lauren Windsor, a liberal film-maker who attended the court’s Historical Society black-tie annual dinner this month, using her real name but posing as a Catholic conservative. She engaged Alito in a conversation about the prospects for a compromise resolution to America’s polarised political landscape.

Appearing to rule out such a compromise, Alito said: “One side or the other is going to win”, before adding:

“There can be a way of working, a way of living together peacefully, but it’s difficult, you know, because there are differences on fundamental things that really can’t be compromised.”

Windsor said: “People in this country who believe in God have got to keep fighting for that, to return our country to a place of godliness.”

The justice replied: “I agree with you. I agree with you.”

The exchange will further intensify the scrutiny on Alito after the flag controversy has called his impartiality into question, particularly after additional revelations that the Alitos flew another flag favoured by the January 6 protesters, bearing the slogan Appeal To Heaven, at their New Jersey holiday home.

The disclosures have sparked calls from Democrats for Alito to recuse himself from forthcoming supreme court rulings on the January 6 events.

The justice has declined to do so, saying it was his wife who chose to fly the flags outside his house, and claiming he had no say.

Martha-Ann Alito waded further into the flag controversy at the Historical Society dinner as well, criticising the flag being flown for Gay Pride month.

“You know what I want?” she said in Windsor’s recording. “I want a Sacred Heart of Jesus flag, because I have to look across the lagoon at the Pride flag for the next month.”

She then ruminated on other flags she might hoist to taunt her ideological adversaries – including one bearing the Italian word for shame.

“‘He’s like, ‘Oh, please don’t put up a flag,’” she said, in apparent reference to her husband. “I won’t do it because I am deferring to you. But when you are free of this nonsense, I’m putting it up and I’m gonna send them a message every day, maybe every week, I’ll be changing the flags.

“They’ll be all kinds. I made a flag in my head. This is how I satisfy myself. I made a flag. It’s white and has yellow and orange flames around it. And in the middle is the word ‘vergogna’. Vergogna in Italian means shame – vergogna. V-E-R-G-O-G-N-A. Vergogna.’”

In a further and notably snide exchange that included critical comments about a female journalist, Martha-Ann Alito appeared to be won over by Windsor, agreeing it was impossible to negotiate with “the radical left” and expressing no objection to the journalist’s repeated expletives.

Windsor had less success in eliciting unmoderated opinions from the supreme court’s chief justice, John Roberts, who balked at her suggestion that the country’s polarised split was irreparable.

Pushed by Windsor on whether the court should have a role in leading the nation to a “more moral path”, Roberts said: “No, I think the role for the court is deciding the cases.”

Windsor’s tactics were criticised by the Historical Society. In a statement, the organisation’s president, James Duff, said: “We condemn the surreptitious recording of justices at the event, which is inconsistent with the entire spirit of the evening.”

She defended herself by saying the court’s lack of openness meant there was no other way. “They are shrouded in secrecy and we have seen them be willing to overturn long-standing precedent in ways that are really extraordinary,” Windsor told the Washington Post. “Americans are really at this crossroads of do we continue with a secular democracy or do we let a conservative majority take us down a path of Christian theocracy.”