Biden stays out of ‘stop the steal’ flag row as Democrats call on SCOTUS judge to recuse himself

The White House is staying out of the controversy surrounding Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito after reports of a pro-Trump election denial display at his Virginia home in the days before President Joe Biden took office.

The flagpole on the judge’s front lawn had flown an upside-down American flag in late 2020 and early 2021, according to a report from The New York Times on Thursday. The traditional military distress symbol was repurposed as a political symbol to indicate rejection of the legitimacy of Mr Biden’s election victory over former president Donald Trump by his GOP supporters.

The upside-down flag was visible up to 17 January 2021, The Times reported, 11 days after a violent pro-Trump mob attempted to block certification of the election by storming the Capitol, and three days before Mr Biden’s inauguration.

On Friday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that she would not be commenting on the matter but that the US flag should not be misused.

“The President believes that the American flag is sacred... we should be respecting that flag, we should be making sure that it is respected in that way,” she said.

“I do not want to get into the business of the specific actions that that Supreme Court justices, if they should recuse themselves or not on on a court that is something for the court more broadly, they have to make that decision. That is something that we're not going to step into — we're not going to comment from here.”

In an interview with Fox News, Justice Alito blamed the display of the political symbol on his wife, Martha-Ann Alito, and said she had been incensed and offended by a vulgar anti-Trump sign displayed in a window at the home of one of their neighbours.

The conservative judge said that Ms Alito had gotten into an argument over the sign with their neighbour, who subsequently put up a different sign. The judge said that sign referenced his wife in vulgar terms and blamed her for the attack on the Capitol.

He also told Fox that he had no role in the flag’s orientation and stressed that it was flying outside their property only “for a short time.”

Despite Mr Alito’s denial, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat, Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, called for him to recuse himself from a pair of cases related to the January 6 attack.

“Flying an upside-down American flag—a symbol of the so-called ‘Stop the Steal’ movement—clearly creates the appearance of bias.  Justice Alito should recuse himself immediately from cases related to the 2020 election and the January 6th insurrection, including the question of the former President’s immunity in US v Donald Trump, which the Supreme Court is currently considering,” Mr Durbin said.

“The Court is in an ethical crisis of its own making, and Justice Alito and the rest of the Court should be doing everything in their power to regain public trust.”

The flag controversy is not the first to face the high court justices on account of spousal support for Mr Trump.

Ginny Thomas, who is married to senior associate justice, Clarence Thomas, has long been associated with conservative and pro-Trump causes. She became a subject of interest to the House January 6 select committee after it became known that she’d been present at a protest near the Capitol on the day of the riot.

Prominent Democrats have also called for Justice Thomas to stand aside from Trump-related cases on account of Ms Thomas activities. He has refused to do so.