Chief Justice John Roberts refuses to meet with Democratic lawmakers over Alito’s ethics and flags issue


Chief Justice John Roberts on Thursday rejected a meeting request from Democratic politicians who wanted to discuss two provocative flags raised on Justice Samuel Alito’s properties.

“There is concern about the separation of powers and the importance of preserving the judicial independence of lawyers against such appearances,” Roberts wrote in a letter released by the Supreme Court.

The chief justice’s letter came a day after Alito said in his own letters that he would not recuse himself from cases involving the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Alito said his wife, Martha-Ann Alito, raised an upside-down American flag at their Virginia home in January 2021 in response to an argument in the neighborhood. He said she also raised the “Call to Heaven” flag on their New Jersey property last summer.

“My wife loves flying flags,” Alito wrote. “I’m not.”

Both flags became associated with supporters of former President Donald Trump and were waved at the Capitol during the riot. Alito said in his own letters Wednesday that he was unaware of their modern political significance.

Illinois Senator. Dick Durbin, Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, had requested Alito’s recusal in those cases and also requested to meet with Roberts “to discuss additional steps to resolve the Supreme Court’s ethical crisis.”

In his brief response Thursday, Roberts wrote that a meeting with leaders of “a single party that has expressed interest in the cases currently pending before the court” only underscored his belief “that participating in such meeting would be inadvisable. (Republican leaders of the Judiciary Committee received a copy of the meeting request and Roberts’ response.)

The Supreme Court is considering two appeals related to the 2020 election and the attack on the U.S. Capitol. In one, the justices weigh Trump’s claim to immunity from election subversion charges brought by special counsel Jack Smith.

In another, a Jan. 6 rioter challenges an obstruction charge brought against him by prosecutors, arguing that Congress intended that law to apply to people destroying evidence, not storming a government building .

Durbin and Whitehouse did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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