Chief Justice John Roberts declines to meet with Democratic lawmakers about ethics flap and Alito’s flags

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

“Separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence counsel against such appearances,” Roberts wrote in a letter released by the Supreme Court.

The chief justice’s letter landed a day after Alito told lawmakers in his own letters that he will not recuse in cases involving the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. Alito said that his wife, Martha-Ann Alito, hoisted an upside-down American flag at their Virginia home in January 2021 in response to a neighborhood spat. He said she also raised the “Appeal to Heaven” flag at their New Jersey property last summer.

“My wife is fond of flying flags,” Alito wrote. “I am not.”

Both flags have become 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 not aware of their modern political meaning.

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

In his brief response Thursday, Roberts wrote that a meeting with leaders “of only one party who have expressed an interest in matters currently pending before the court” only served to underscore his belief “that participating in such a meeting would be inadvisable.” (Republican leaders of the Judiciary Committee were copied on the meeting request and Roberts’ response.)

The Supreme Court is considering two appeals tied to the 2020 election and the attack on the US Capitol. In one, the justices are weighing Trump’s claim of immunity from special counsel Jack Smith’s election subversion charges.

In another, a January 6 rioter is challenging an obstruction charge filed 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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