Opinion | The strange case of Alito v. Alito

That’s a strange marriage.

I’m talking, of course, about Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. and his flag-waving wife, Martha-Ann, and I take as my text Alito’s own recitations, most recently in a letter Tuesday to Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), who declined to recuse themselves from hear Trump-related election matters.

There are reasons to question Alito’s candor and judgment, and I’ll get to that in a moment. For now, let’s assume that the facts are as the justice lays them out: Martha-Ann Alito, embroiled in a bitter dispute with a neighbor – a dispute related to the electionssomething Alito notably neglects to say – turned to semiotics, in the extreme form of an inverted American flag, to convey her grief.

For example, her husband, the judge, says: “I wasn’t even aware of the upside-down flag until it was brought to my attention. As soon as I saw it, I asked my wife to remove it, but for several days she refused.”

Like I said, weird. Marriage is about respectfully meeting competing needs. A Washington marriage — that is, a marriage involving one or more people in positions of authority or prominence — is about respectfully meeting competing needs in the public spotlight.

My husband is active in politics, but out of respect for my role as a journalist, we do not hang campaign signs on our lawn. During his many years in government, I did not write about issues involving him – you could say I blamed myself – so as not to put us both in an uncomfortable position. Appearances matter, and when your partner is in the public eye, there are things you would rather not do, even though they would otherwise be unacceptable.

Not the Alitos. “My wife and I jointly own our home in Virginia,” Alito wrote to the two senators. “She therefore has the legal right to use the property as she sees fit, and there were no additional steps I could have taken to have the flag removed more quickly.” As for the second flag, an “Appeal to Heaven” banner on their New Jersey vacation home, that property “was purchased with money inherited from her parents and is registered in her name.”

Serious? Is he really saying that this is about the rent of the whole, or simply who owns which property?

Alito wrapped himself in an unconvincing mix of fake feminism and freedom of expression, with an Alito-esque dose of victimhood. “My wife is a private citizen and she has the same First Amendment rights as any other American,” he wrote. Yes, she does – and like other spouses of prominent people, she has an independent responsibility to her husband and his institution to behave appropriately.

More Alito: “She makes her own decisions, and I have always respected her right to do so.” As I’ve written about Clarence and Virginia Thomas, each of them gets their own career, but when one touches the other, something has to be done. That is not anti-feminist, but pro-ethics.

And then the victimhood: “She made many sacrifices to accommodate my service at the Supreme Court, including the insult of having to endure numerous, loud, obscene and personally insulting protests in front of our home that continue to this day and now threaten to spiral out of control.”

I’m not a fan of protests at the judges’ homes. But are you asking us to pity her ‘sacrifices’ to ‘make my service possible’? Give me a break. Being a Supreme Court justice is an honor that comes with many privileges. That includes being the wife of a Supreme Court justice. And the more fundamental point is that these supposed sacrifices do not excuse otherwise inappropriate behavior.

And about that inappropriate behavior: One of the striking aspects of Alito’s letter is that it exposes his lack of candor. In his first few renditions of the incident, the flag flew “briefly” (the statement to the New York Times) and “for a short time” (his statement to Fox News host Shannon Bream). As The Post reported, and Alito now acknowledges, it flew “for several days.” In what world is that ‘short’?

Alito asks us to believe his claims: his wife is a flag fanatic, not him; he wanted it removed; he “had no involvement” in the decision to fly the “Appeal to Heaven” flag in their holiday home – but his behavior does not inspire confidence.

More importantly, the letter underlines that Alito immediately recognized that the upside-down flag was a problem: “As soon as I saw it, I asked my wife to take it down.” Why exactly did he find the flag a problem? If the flag was merely, as Martha-Ann Alito claimed, an international symbol of distress, and not a statement of support for Stop the Steal, why was he so concerned?

And, more to the point, if he was alarmed then, why doesn’t the public have every reason to be alarmed now?

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