Samuel Alito may not love his wife's Jan. 6 flags, but he sure agrees with their message

The Supreme Court justice denies left and right can compromise — but he's ignoring the obvious and simple solution

By Amanda Marcotte

Senior Writer

Published June 12, 2024 6:02AM (EDT)

Samuel Alito and his wife Martha  | An appeal to heaven flag and an American flag. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Samuel Alito and his wife Martha | An appeal to heaven flag and an American flag. (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Credit where it's due. There's one thing Samuel Alito isn't lying about: His wife really is fixated with flags.

Most political observers were understandably skeptical of the Supreme Court justice's "take my wife, please" excuses for two separate Jan. 6-boosting flags flown above their home in northern Virginia and beach house in New Jersey. In the face of growing outrage over flags signaling alignment with the insurrectionists and their Christian nationalist views, Alito grumpily insisted, "My wife is fond of flying flags. I am not." But this is the same guy who claims he had nothing to do with the leaking of the Dobbs decision, which ended the federal right to abortion so folks can be forgiven for not believing him this time. 

The Supreme Court's six Republican-appointed justices are in thrall to a nonsense ideology that redefines "religious liberty" as the "right" of Christians to foist their faith on others.

Now new audio of Lady Alito suggests she is very much into flags. In secret recordings by activist Lauren Windsor — vetted and first published by Rolling Stone Martha-Ann Alito comes across every inch the petty right-wing Karen described by neighbors in a police report. With very little prompting from Windsor, who was pretending to be a religious right activist at a cocktail party, Mrs. Alito ranted about how much she hates having "to look across the lagoon at the Pride flag." She wants to hang a flag that literally says "shame," she told Windsor, but will wait until her husband is "free of this nonsense," i.e. criticism he's been getting over far-right flags.

Okay, so maybe Sam Alito isn't a flag guy. But Windsor's recordings show why his refusals to recuse from Jan. 6 cases are still very much made in bad faith. On the very same batch of tapes, we can hear Alito agreeing with the anti-American sentiments symbolized by the insurrectionist flags. When asked about political polarization, Alito told Windsor, "One side or the other is going to win." For a brief moment, he considers the possibility "of living together peacefully" but ultimately concludes that "there are differences on fundamental things that really can’t be compromised." So, the Supreme Court justice quips, "it’s not like you are going to split the difference."

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No doubt Alito will continue to deny that he should recuse from cases involving the Jan. 6 insurrection or Donald Trump's efforts to overthrow democracy. But these comments are further proof that Alito should resign his position altogether. Despite Alito's claims to believe in "originalism" and insistence on interpreting the Constitution as "people would have understood it to mean at the time it was written," his comments show he rejects the basic tenets of our founding document. As imperfect as the Constitution is, its drafters did come up with an elegant pathway to the compromise Alito denies is possible. Alito only needs to reread the First Amendment, which offers the solution, even if he doesn't like it. 

As a refresher, since it seems it's been a while since Alito read it, the First Amendment forbids the government from "establishment of religion" or "prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Or, in modern parlance, when it comes to religion, you do you. If you, like the Alitos, have religious beliefs prohibiting homosexuality or abortion, well, lucky you! The government will not force you to be gay or abort a pregnancy. By the same token, if my belief system is more liberal and tolerant, then I'm also free to do gay stuff or have an abortion. Everyone can even hang flags declaring their views, and no, you aren't being "canceled" if someone doesn't like your particular flag. 

Obviously, the First Amendment has not been a cure-all for conflicts arising from the disagreements between religious conservatives like the Alitos and their more liberal or non-believing neighbors. But history also shows that the ugliness tends only to manifest when the right rejects the wisdom of the secular system laid out by the founders. There have never been roving gangs of atheists trying to use government power to stop people from going to church or praying at home. The fights erupt when conservative Christians try to force their beliefs on others or use taxpayer money to fund discrimination or proselytization.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court's six Republican-appointed justices are in thrall to nonsense ideology that redefines "religious liberty" as the "right" of Christians to foist their faith on others. They've been flouting the First Amendment repeatedly, from allowing a high school football coach to bully students into public prayer to ruling that employers can deny insurance benefits to employees based on religious difference. As liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out during oral arguments on the Dobbs case, abortion bans are based on nothing "but a religious view," laying waste to women's lives and health to satisfy the whims of a Republican god. 

Both the current presidential campaign of Donald Trump and the Capitol insurrection he inspired on January 6, 2021, are rooted in this Christian nationalist rejection of the First Amendment. As Kathryn Joyce documented at Salon, the insurrection's leaders explicitly called for "dissolving the country" so it can be "reborn" as a Christian theocracy. Russ Vought, Trump's top policy advisor and a contender to be his chief of staff, has also explicitly declared that this is a "post-Constitutional time," which he uses as cover to argue for theocratic laws to force Americans to live by his definition of Christian morality. Last week, Trump announced a speech in front of the Danbury Institute, which sneeringly dismisses the concept of "women's rights" and calls for a total ban on abortion in the name of an American government "which is rooted in the Bible." 

Alito's wife's flags are about declaring her fidelity to this Christian nationalist worldview. His comments to Windsor show he fully agrees with his wife. When 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," Alito replied, "I agree with you." This shows that he's not only ignorant of the Constitution he claims to uphold but of the history of the nation he claims to love. There's no "place of godliness" to return to. The U.S. was founded as a secular nation. It has survived, in large part, because of the First Amendment's demands of plurality and tolerance, which have been a check on religious conflict. We only have problems now because so many people, including Alito, have talked themselves into an ahistorical claim that they should be allowed to impose their beliefs on others. Someone who so profoundly rejects a founding principle of the nation has no right to be sitting in judgment of its laws. 

By Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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