HomePoliticsKey Republican senators are criticizing Alito over the upside-down flag incident

Key Republican senators are criticizing Alito over the upside-down flag incident

Key Republican senators sharply criticized Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito after news reports showed an upside-down American flag – a symbol used by some supporters of former President Donald Trump, who questioned the legitimacy of the Joe Biden‘s 2020 win – he flew outside his home in 2021.

Such criticism of a conservative justice by senior Republican senators is extremely rare and a sign of how unusual the controversy is.

In a brief interview with CNN, Senate Republican Whip John Thuneone of the contenders vying to replace retiring Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called the flag a “bad decision.”

“I don’t know how you explain that,” Thune said.

Senator Lindsey Grahamthe top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it was a “mistake” for Alito to leave an American flag hanging upside down at his home.

A photo obtained by The New York Times shows an upside-down flag at the Alito residence on January 17, 2021, three days before Biden's inauguration.  - from the New York Times

A photo obtained by The New York Times shows an upside-down flag at the Alito residence on January 17, 2021, three days before Biden’s inauguration. – from the New York Times

“It creates a bad image,” Graham told CNN’s Manu Raju. “It created a situation that we are all talking about. So yeah, I think it was a mistake.

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Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah expressed concern about the flag.

“It is very unfortunate and we have to look at it,” he told reporters.

The inverted flag became a symbol of the “Stop the Steal” movement in the weeks and months after the election, in which Trump’s supporters falsely claimed that Biden’s victory was illegitimate due to widespread fraud. The inverted flag was widely seen during the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

The New York Times published a photo of the inverted flag, which was reportedly seen at the judge’s home in Alexandria, Virginia, on January 17, 2021.

“I was in no way involved in the flag raising,” Alito said in an emailed statement to the Times. “It was briefly posted by Ms. Alito in response to a neighbor’s use of offensive and personally insulting language on yard signs.”

However, many Republicans who spoke to CNN defended Alito or downplayed the case. Even some who questioned his judgment on the incident still defended his role in court.

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“There are always accusations made about members of this court, and the left has tried very hard to discredit them,” Thune said. “This is a court that looks at the law in the Constitution and interprets it as it should be.”

“I don’t think he should be rejected,” Graham told Raju.

Many Republicans have vehemently resisted calls for Alito to recuse himself from Trump and election-related matters.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the Judiciary Committee and candidate for Republican Party leadership, said: “There are more important things to worry about.”

Senator John Cornyn arrives for lunch with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol on February 7, 2024 in Washington, DC.  -Anna Moneymaker/Getty ImagesSenator John Cornyn arrives for lunch with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol on February 7, 2024 in Washington, DC.  -Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Senator John Cornyn arrives for lunch with Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol on February 7, 2024 in Washington, DC. -Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Cornyn described the focus on the upside-down flag as “continued intimidation” against Alito.

“Since Clarence Thomas experienced what he called the high-tech lynching, I think we have seen repeated attempts to undermine the credibility of the Supreme Court. And this is just the last episode,” Cornyn added.

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Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, also a member of the Judiciary Committee, said news of the flag is the left’s “latest attempt to attack and question the Supreme Court.” He said Democrats’ call for Alito to recuse himself from some cases involving Trump is “crazy to think that this has nothing to do with what’s going on.”

GOP Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said, “This is America and Mrs. Alito is entitled to her opinion, but I don’t see any evidence that Judge Alito had anything to do with it.”

Kennedy also spoke about the role and obligations of Supreme Court spouses.

“Should they be discreet and judicious in the way they express their position? Certainly. But it doesn’t have to be that way,” Kennedy said.

Another Republican senator appeared to downplay the issue as a dispute between neighbors.

“It sounded like something from the neighborhood. I don’t really have any comment on it,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a Republican from West Virginia.

CNN’s John Fritze, Lauren Fox, Morgan Rimmer and Manu Raju contributed to this report.

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