Supreme Court Justice Blames Wife as New Scandal Casts Shadow on Trump Case

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito claimed that his wife, Martha-Ann, had sole responsibility in displaying an upside-down American flag outside the couple’s home in the aftermath of the 2020 election.

The conservative justice has come under fire after The New York Times reported Thursday that the symbol—which was used at the time by some supporters of former President Donald Trump to contest the election results—was seen flying on Alito’s lawn in Alexandria, Virginia, on January 17, 2021, according to photographs.

Trump and his allies have repeatedly claimed—despite a dearth of evidence—that his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden was due to widespread election fraud. The photograph of the inverted flag at Alito’s home was captured just 11 days after a mass of Trump’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6 while Congress was certifying Biden’s win.

Alito said in a statement emailed to the Times that he “had no involvement whatsoever in the flying of the flag” and that it was “briefly placed by Mrs. Alito in response to a neighbor’s use of objectionable and personally insulting language on yard signs.” The controversial report comes a few weeks after the Supreme Court heard arguments on whether Trump is protected by presidential immunity in his federal election subversion case. The high court is expected to issue a ruling in the coming weeks.

Supreme Court Justice Blames Wife For TrumpSymbol
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito poses for an official portrait at the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., on October 7, 2022. Alito is facing questions after The New York Times reported that a…

Alex Wong/Getty Images

“Judges are supposed to avoid politics,” former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance wrote in reaction to the Times report on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Justice Alito doesn’t seem to care. When I saw the NYT headline, I thought a vandal had placed the upside down American flag at the Alito’s house or the photo was a deep fake. It turns out, that’s not the case.”

In reactions online, other legal experts highlighted Alito’s statement that blamed his wife for the flag’s placement, including constitutional law professor Anthony Kreis, who teaches at Georgia State University College of Law.

“‘TAKE THAT!,’ Samuel Alito said hanging a flag upside down—a traditional and normal way to express anger at a neighbor—before planning to blame everything on his wife, who thankfully, would take the brunt of his bad decisions as the rest of women in America would soon feel,” Kreis wrote to X. He quipped in a following post, “This is my theory of the case.”

Elie Mystal, attorney and justice correspondent for progressive news outlet The Nation, wrote in his own reaction to X, “Always gotta love when ‘strong manly republicans for personal responsibility’ throw their wives under the bus at the first available moment.”

Mystal added in a following post that he does “not for ONE SOLITARY SECOND believe” Alito had “no part” in putting up the inverted flag.

Newsweek has reached out to the Supreme Court requesting comment from conservative Chief Justice John Roberts. Several emails were also sent to legal experts seeking additional insight.

Alito is not the first justice to face questions over his potential partiality to the former president. Justice Clarence Thomas has also faced calls to recuse himself from Trump’s immunity case after his wife, Ginni, said that she attended the former president’s rally before the January 6 attack. Thomas has also been questioned over his relationship with conservative figures like billionaire GOP donor Harlan Crow, who, according to reports by ProPublica, has paid for several luxurious trips for Thomas and his wife.

The Supreme Court adopted its first code of ethics in November 2023 following the scandals involving Thomas. The policies were met with swift criticism, however, for lacking a clear enforcement measure for how justices would be held accountable.

The ethics code, similar to the long-standing one to which lower courts are held, states that judges need to remain impartial and avoid political statements on issues that could be brought before them. According to the Times report, which cited a list of guidelines that was handed to the Supreme Court staff, the court has warned its employees to avoid public political displays. The court’s internal rule book also bans employees from displaying signs or bumper stickers.

Former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told Newsweek via email Thursday night that jurists “have to recuse themselves if their impartiality may reasonably be questioned,” but that the “question is limited to the judge alone.”

“That is why Ginni Thomas’ activity can’t be attributed to Justice Thomas or Judge Juan Merchan’s daughter’s activity to Judge Merchan,” Rahmani added. Merchan, who is presiding over Trump’s business fraud case in Manhattan, faced calls to recuse himself due to his daughter’s role at a progressive political consulting firm.

“Justice Alito reportedly blames his wife for flying the upside down flag,” Rahmani added. “If true, though it’s a terrible look, pundits and litigants can’t demand Justice Alito’s recusal on cases involving Joe Biden or Donald Trump.”

Update 05/16/24, 10:16 p.m. ET: This article has been updated with additional information and comment from Rahmani.