This Is What a Feminist Looks Like

Samuel Alito supports a woman’s right to make “her own decisions”—when flying flags, that is.

An illustration of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito walking hand in hand with his wife, Martha. Martha totes a pole in her free hand, which is placed over her left shoulder. The pole has an upside down American flag at the end.

Mother Jones; Alex Wong/Getty; Elizabeth Donnelly/Unsplash

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When he authored the opinion overturning Roe v. Wade two years ago, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito may have taken away women’s right to abortion and ability to decide their destiny, while forcing many to endure near-death medical trauma. But one thing he will not tolerate is stopping a woman from flying a flag as she chooses—any flag, no matter how offensive. We know this, because he lives this commitment in his own marriage.

In a letter to two Democratic senators on Wednesday, Alito said he would not recuse himself from cases involving January 6, even though flags commonly indicating support of the events of that day flew at both his Virginia residence and New Jersey vacation home. The reason, Alito explains, is that his wife loves flying flags and it was all her idea. But he is not throwing Martha-Ann Alito under the bus: As Alito explains, he can’t control his wife, nor should he. She has a right to fly flags.

Alito explains he can’t control his wife, nor should he. She has a right to fly flags.

The letter comes after the New York Times reported earlier this month that an upside down US flag, a symbol of support for Donald Trump’s “stop the steal” movement, flew outside Alito’s Virginia home in the days before President Joe Biden’s 2021 inauguration. “As soon as I saw it, I asked my wife to take it down, but for several days, she refused,” Alito wrote to Senators Dick Durbin of Illinois and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, who had jointly called on Alito to recuse himself from cases related to the 2020 election, including a major one in which former President Trump seeks criminal immunity for his role in trying to overturn his defeat. When the court issues its ruling in the coming weeks, Republican-appointed justices, including Alito, may thwart Trump’s prosecution for his attempts to steal the 2020 election.

“My wife and I own our Virginia home jointly,” Alito’s letter continues. “She therefore has the legal right to use the property as she sees fit, and there were no additional steps that I could have taken to have the flag taken down more promptly.”

Alito’s wife has a mind of her own, and she owns property, Alito reminds the senators. Who is he to stand in her way? “She makes her own decisions, and I have always respected her right to do so,” Alito wrote. Alito isn’t blaming his wife. He’s honoring her rights.

Last week, the Times reported that a second pro-coup flag had flown at Alito’s vacation home. The “Appeal to Heaven” flag, originally associated with America’s war of independence, has come to signify support for Trump and was hoisted by rioters on January 6. It has also been popularized on the right by Christian nationalists seeking to infuse their conservative religious views into government—and who see Alito as their champion on the Supreme Court. At the time the flag flew at the Alito’s vacation home, in August of 2023, the court was deciding whether to take up a case—now pending before the court—over what charges could be brought against January 6 rioters.

Again, Alito dismisses the impropriety of this flag flying over his home as just another instance of a flag-loving female property owner exercising her rights. “My wife is an independently minded private citizen,” Alito wrote. “She makes her own decisions, and I honor her right to do so.” He continued: “Our vacation home was purchased with money she inherited from her parents and is titled in her name. It is a place, away from Washington, where she should be able to relax.”

In fairness, this is not the first time Alito has dabbled in feminism. As he noted in his decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning Roe v. Wade:

Women are not without electoral or political power. It is noteworthy that the percentage of women who register to vote and cast ballots is consistently higher than the percentage of men who do so. In the last election in November 2020, women, who make up around 51.5 percent of the population of Mississippi, constituted 55.5 percent of the voters who cast ballots.

Alito conveniently omitted that the Mississippi legislature that enacted the abortion ban at issue in Dobbs was 86 percent male because this is a woman’s world, and Alito is just living in it. No, women can’t have abortions or make life-altering decisions about their future. But if they own a house, he will defend their right to fly whatever flag they want there. At least we know he will if he’s in trouble, and the woman in question is his wife.

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Our team has been on fire lately—publishing sweeping, one-of-a-kind investigations, ambitious, groundbreaking projects, and even releasing “the holy shit documentary of the year.” And that’s on top of protecting free and fair elections and standing up to bullies and BS when others in the media don’t.

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