Chief Justice Rejects Meeting Request Over Controversial Flags at Justice Alito's Properties

Chief Justice John Roberts Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP 

Chief Justice John Roberts declined a meeting request from Democratic lawmakers who wanted to discuss two contentious flags displayed at Justice Samuel Alito’s properties. Roberts cited "separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence" as reasons for his refusal in a letter released by the Supreme Court.

The chief justice's response came a day after Justice Alito informed lawmakers in his letters that he would not recuse himself from cases related to the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. Alito explained that his wife, Martha-Ann Alito, had flown an upside-down American flag at their Virginia home in January 2021 due to a neighborhood dispute. She also raised an “Appeal to Heaven” flag at their New Jersey property last summer. Both flags have been linked to supporters of former President Donald Trump and were seen during the Capitol riot. Alito claimed he was unaware of their contemporary political implications.

Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, had called for Alito's recusal in these cases and sought a meeting with Roberts to discuss measures to address the Supreme Court's ethics issues. In his brief response, Roberts noted that meeting with leaders of only one party with interests in current court matters reinforced his view that such a meeting would be inadvisable. Republican Judiciary Committee leaders were also included in the meeting request and Roberts' response.

The Supreme Court is currently considering two appeals related to the 2020 election and the Capitol attack. One involves former President Trump's claim of immunity from special counsel Jack Smith’s election subversion charges. The other involves a January 6 rioter challenging an obstruction charge, arguing that Congress intended the law to apply to those destroying evidence, not those storming a government building.

Durbin and Whitehouse did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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