After the 2020 presidential election, as some Trump supporters falsely claimed that President Biden had stolen the workplace, lots of them displayed a startling image outdoors their properties, on their vehicles and in on-line posts: an upside-down American flag.

One of many properties flying an inverted flag throughout that point was the residence of Supreme Courtroom Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., in Alexandria, Va., in accordance with images and interviews with neighbors.

The upside-down flag was aloft on Jan. 17, 2021, the pictures confirmed. President Donald J. Trump’s supporters, together with some brandishing the identical image, had rioted on the Capitol a bit over per week earlier than. Mr. Biden’s inauguration was three days away. Alarmed neighbors snapped images, a few of which have been lately obtained by The New York Occasions. Phrase of the flag filtered again to the courtroom, individuals who labored there stated in interviews.

Whereas the flag was up, the courtroom was nonetheless contending with whether or not to listen to a 2020 election case, with Justice Alito on the losing end of that call. In coming weeks, the justices will rule on two climactic circumstances involving the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, together with whether or not Mr. Trump has immunity for his actions. Their choices will form how accountable he might be held for making an attempt to overturn the final presidential election and his chances for re-election within the upcoming one.

“I had no involvement by any means within the flying of the flag,” Justice Alito stated in an emailed assertion to The Occasions. “It was briefly positioned by Mrs. Alito in response to a neighbor’s use of objectionable and personally insulting language on yard indicators.”

Judicial specialists stated in interviews that the flag was a transparent violation of ethics guidelines, which search to keep away from even the looks of bias, and will sow doubt about Justice Alito’s impartiality in circumstances associated to the election and the Capitol riot.

The mere impression of political opinion is usually a drawback, the ethics specialists stated. “It is likely to be his partner or another person dwelling in his residence, however he shouldn’t have it in his yard as his message to the world,” stated Amanda Frost, a regulation professor on the College of Virginia.

That is “the equal of placing a ‘Cease the Steal’ check in your yard, which is an issue for those who’re deciding election-related circumstances,” she stated.

Interviews present that the justice’s spouse, Martha-Ann Alito, had been in a dispute with one other household on the block over an anti-Trump signal on their garden, however given the timing and the starkness of the image, neighbors interpreted the inverted flag as a political assertion by the couple.

The longstanding ethics code for the decrease courts, in addition to the recent one adopted by the Supreme Courtroom, stress the necessity for judges to stay impartial and keep away from political statements or opinions on issues that might come earlier than them.

“You all the time need to be proactive in regards to the look of impartiality,” Jeremy Fogel, a former federal decide and the director of the Berkeley Judicial Institute, stated in an interview. “One of the best observe can be to guarantee that nothing like that’s in entrance of your home.”

The courtroom has additionally repeatedly warned its personal staff in opposition to public shows of partisan views, in accordance with tips circulated to the employees and reviewed by The Occasions. Displaying indicators or bumper stickers just isn’t permitted, in accordance with the courtroom’s inner rule guide and a 2022 memo reiterating the ban on political exercise.

Requested if these guidelines additionally apply to justices, the courtroom declined to reply.

The precise period that the flag flew outdoors the Alito residence is unclear. In an electronic mail from Jan. 18, 2021, reviewed by The Occasions, a neighbor wrote to a relative that the flag had been the wrong way up for a number of days at that time.

Lately, the quiet sanctuary of his road, with residents who’re registered Republicans and Democrats, has tensed with battle, neighbors stated. Across the 2020 election, a household on the block displayed an anti-Trump signal with an expletive. It apparently offended Mrs. Alito and led to an escalating conflict between her and the household, in accordance with interviews.

Some residents have additionally bridled on the noise and intrusion introduced by protesters, who began exhibiting up outdoors the Alito residence in 2022 after the Supreme Courtroom overturned the federal proper to abortion. Different neighbors have joined the demonstrators, whose intent was “to carry the protest to their private lives as a result of the choices have an effect on our private lives,” stated Heather-Ann Irons, who got here to the road to protest.

The half-dozen neighbors who noticed the flag, or knew of it, requested anonymity as a result of they stated they didn’t need to add to the contentiousness on the block and feared reprisal. Final Saturday, Could 11, protesters returned to the road, waving flags of their very own (“Don’t Tread on My Uterus”) and utilizing a megaphone to broadcast expletives at Justice Alito, who was in Ohio giving a commencement address. Mrs. Alito appeared in a window, complaining to the Supreme Courtroom safety element outdoors.

Turning the American flag the wrong way up is an emblem of emergency and misery, first used as a navy S.O.S., historians stated in interviews. In current many years, it has more and more been used as a political protest image — a controversial one, as a result of the flag code and navy custom require the paramount image of the US to be handled with respect.

Over time, upside-down flags have been displayed by each the proper and the left as an outcry over a spread of points, together with the Vietnam Warfare, gun violence, the Supreme Courtroom’s overturning of the constitutional proper to abortion and, particularly, election outcomes. In 2012, Tea Celebration followers inverted flags at their homes to sign disgust on the re-election of President Barack Obama. 4 years later, some liberals suggested doing the identical after Mr. Trump was elected.

Throughout Mr. Trump’s quest to win, after which subvert, the 2020 election, the gesture took off as by no means earlier than, turning into “actually established as an emblem of the ‘Cease the Steal’ marketing campaign,” in accordance with Alex Newhouse, a researcher on the College of Colorado Boulder.

A flood of social media posts exhorted Trump supporters to flip over their flags or purchase new ones to show the wrong way up.

“If Jan. 6 rolls round and Biden is confirmed by the Electoral Faculty our nation is in misery!!” a poster wrote on Patriots.win, a discussion board for Trump supporters, garnering over a thousand “up” votes. “When you can’t go to the DC rally then it’s essential to do your responsibility and present your assist for our president by flying the flag the wrong way up!!!!”

Native newspapers from Lexington, Ky., to Sun City, Ariz., to North Jersey wrote in regards to the flags cropping up close by. Just a few days earlier than the inauguration, a Senate candidate in Minnesota flew an upside-down flag on his campaign vehicle.

Hanging an inverted flag outdoors a house was “an express signifier that you’re a part of this group that believes America has been taken and must be taken again,” Mr. Newhouse stated.

This spring, the justices are already laboring below suspicion by many People that no matter choices they make in regards to the Jan. 6 circumstances will probably be partisan. Justice Clarence Thomas has declined to recuse himself regardless of the direct involvement of his spouse, Virginia Thomas, in efforts to overturn the election.

Now, with choices within the Jan. 6 circumstances anticipated in just some weeks, the same debate might unfurl about Justice Alito, the ethics specialists stated. “It truly is a query of appearances and the potential impression on public confidence within the courtroom,” Mr. Fogel stated. “I believe it might be higher for the courtroom if he weren’t concerned in circumstances arising from the 2020 election. However I’m fairly sure that he’ll see that in another way.”

If Justice Alito have been on one other courtroom, Mr. Fogel stated, the flag might additionally set off some type of evaluation to find out if there was any misconduct. However as a result of the Supreme Courtroom serves because the arbiter of its personal habits, “you don’t actually have wherever to take it,” he stated.

Aric Toler contributed reporting. Julie Tate contributed analysis.





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