What’s In A Flag?

I had no idea what to make of Justice Sam Alito’s upside down flag, although his putting that on his wife when he lives in the house and the flag is as much his as hers, was very poor form. But now a second flag, the Appeal to Heaven?

According to the New York Times, the flag can now be seen as “a symbol of support [1] for former President Donald J. Trump, [2] for a religious strand of the ‘Stop the Steal’ campaign and [3] for a push to remake American government in Christian terms.” A bit of a hodgepodge to be sure. Did Mr. or Mrs. Alito choose to fly this flag to “stop the steal” nearly three years after the election? That seems a stretch. Again, there is no actual evidence of this, but countless news stories, and politicians, will accept this insinuation as obvious.

Aside from these flags reflecting exceptionally poor and conflicted judgment by Alito, who should have remained above such symbolism in order to maintain the appearance of impartiality and the integrity of the Supreme Court, what does this mean? What should be done about it? Is this much ado about nothing or time for Alito to recuse himself?

I had no idea that either an upside down American flag or the Appeal to Heaven flag represented anything relating to political and religious positioning. But a person who chooses to fly such a flag should certainly be aware of its implications. And assuming Justice Alito was aware, and he was sending a message that was unbecoming of his status as an associate justice of the Supreme Court, has he crossed a line? If not, why then has Alito not “cleared the air”? If he was willing to publicly display the message conveyed by these flags, and he was, then it would be no different to provide an explanation, if there is one.

Josh Blackman argues that this is likely more about religion, as Alito is quite religious. Josh may be right, but then why doesn’t Alito say so? And even if it is about religion, should he be flying a flag that represents America becoming a Christian nation? There would seem to be a rather flagrant establishment problem there.

Justice Alito proffered an excuse for the upside down “distress” flag his wife raised, although it didn’t bear up to scrutiny, doesn’t satisfy concerns about why he left it flying over his home, and was a rather cringey “blame the wife” excuse. So what is the reason for this?

Is there one?

14 thoughts on “What’s In A Flag?

  1. davep

    One might have thought the foofaraw with the first flag would be enough to discourage displaying the second. Must be some big-brain Supreme Court justice thing.

    1. Miles

      This is an important point. No matter what excuse some come up with for the upside down flag, there is no excuse for the second flag. That was either deliberate (and wrong) or stupid (and wrong).

      1. Hal

        FWIW, my understanding is thethat the “Appeal to Heaven” flag was flown over Alito’s beach house last summer. So, the flag flown as a distress signal was actually the second flag flown.

    2. j a higginbotham

      1) years ago – upside down flag
      2) last summer – pine tree flag
      3) recently – foofaraw

  2. phv3773

    A priori, an upside-down flag is a generalized signal of distress. At the home of a public official, it could trigger a wellfare check by SWAT.

    1. PK

      You mean a posteriori. You only know those things from experience. Also, the upside-down flag apparently can carry other meanings, as observed here. He should watch what he flies and stay out of politics.

  3. Virginia Burke

    Nothing quite embodies the symbolism of the Jan 6 attack on the Capitol like the sea of flags that were represented that day. Apart from the clear Trump branding of the event we saw the inverted flag, the yellow serpent, the confederate flag, the appeal to heaven tree and more. Flags were so thick you could hardly see the people supporting them in some videos. The flags were used to thrash and beat the Capitol police officers over the head as the world watched with its mouth agape.

    If Alito and his wife missed the significance of these flags they don’t deserve to graduate grade school.
    How else can we interpret their display? What next, red caps to walk their dog. I don’t think Alito’s contempt could speak any louder. Clearly his job can no longer confine his extremism.

    Unless…… Mrs. Alito was sending a secret cry for help.

    1. Redditlaw

      The yellow serpent? That sounds metal. Please stop making Donald Trump supporters sound cool.

  4. Pedantic Grammar Police

    Should he recuse himself? Opinions will vary. One side says yes, one side says no. All of those opinions are irrelevant. Nobody can make him recuse himself. His opinion is the only one that matters, and I predict that, like every Supreme Court judge ever, he will be supremely confident about his impartiality.

  5. Moose

    Seems to me it has been a very long time since any Presidential nomination to the Supreme Court has come without said nominee having political beliefs that broadly align with said President’s party.

  6. cthulhu

    Over at Volokh, Josh Blackman points out that Justice Ginsburg wore her “dissent jabot” in Supreme Court session the day after Trump was elected, Wednesday November 9 2016. But she had no dissents to read or show support for that day; in fact, there were no opinions handed down that day. But the Associated Press saw fit to call it out, and not in a negative way.

    TL; DR – this affair is “…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

  7. John Paul

    There is a simple reason why Alito hung the pine tree flag. He’s known as a history buff and this is a historical flag that was approved by George Washington. People have displayed it for two hundred and fifty years. The fact that Jan. 6 rioters carried the flag along with many other flags and emblems doesn’t make the flag their exclusive symbol. (They also carried the American flag.) The problem with manufacturing stories based on nothing other than innuendo is that there is no limiting principle. If Sotomayor for example were found to never hang the American flag on her properties, can we write a story implying that she doesn’t like the U.S.? That’s about how thin the Alito story is. And of course we know why he’s a target of leftist media: he makes rulings they disagree with.

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