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May 23, 2024

Flag tied to Jan. 6 rioters flown at Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito's Jersey Shore house

The Long Beach Island property had an 'Appeal to Reason' flag above it last summer, raising questions about the judge's impartiality in a case involving people who stormed the Capitol.

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Samuel Alito Flag Jasper Colt/USA TODAY NETWORK

An 'Appeal to Heaven' flag flew last summer at Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr.'s vacation home on Long Beach Island. The flag has been embraced by far-right groups that were involved in the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

A flag used by far-right groups tied to the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol was flown last summer at the Long Beach Island vacation home of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr., the New York Times reported Thursday. 

The "Appeal to Heaven" flag was displayed along with two others, including one representing the Phillies' National League Championship in 2022, a photo of the Jersey Shore vacation property shows. Alito is a Trenton native and is widely considered the most conservative member of the Supreme Court.

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The controversial flag, also called the Pine Tree Flag, dates back to the Revolutionary War and depicts a tree with the phrase, "An Appeal to Heaven" above it. The flag was once flown above colonial warships and has been used for various purposes by states in New England. It gained popularity among conservative and nationalist groups in the 2010s, sometimes adopted as a symbol by Christian activists hoping to reform the country as a religious state.

In more recent years, the flag has been embraced by supporters of former President Donald Trump who deny he lost the 2020 election and seek to establish a Christian nationalist state.

The New York Times obtained photos of the flag at Alito's home from three sources and also spoke with multiple neighbors on Long Beach Island who said they observed it at the property in July and September of last year.

Last week, the Times reported that an upside-down American flag was flown at Alito's home in Virginia in 2021. He said that flag had been raised by his wife, who had been in a dispute with a neighbor. Alito did not comment on the flag flown in New Jersey.

At the time the "Appeal to Heaven" flag flew above Alito's property, the Supreme Court had just received a case centered on the validity of charging more than 300 Jan. 6 rioters with obstruction of an official proceeding. The appeals process in that case has tied up the prosecution of defendants who were charged for their participation in the "Stop the Steal" rally and the subsequent storming of the U.S. Capitol in early 2021. The case was brought by Joseph Fischer, a former police officer in Pennsylvania who was part of the mob that entered the Capitol. Like many others charged with similar crimes, Fischer has been free on court-approved, pre-trial release during his appeal.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case last month and a ruling is expected in the coming weeks, potentially carrying implications for Trump in his bid for immunity for his conduct as president when he challenged the outcome of the 2020 election.

The code of conduct for the Supreme Court states that justices "should not engage in behavior that is harassing, abusive, prejudiced or biased," and also should perform their duties "fairly, impartially and diligently." Ethics experts told the New York Times that Alito's flags could be viewed as a partisan gesture made in the midst of a pivotal court case.

The "Appeal to Heaven" flag has been embraced by a number of Republican leaders over the years, from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to Pennsylvania state Sen. Doug Mastriano, who posted a photo on Facebook of a Christmas tree ornament bearing the symbol less than a month before the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Mastriano unsuccessfully ran for governor two years ago on a campaign closely aligned with Trump.

The phrase written above the flag is most often associated with British philosopher John Locke, whose 17th century writings about rebelling against injustice were later adopted by colonial leaders during the American Revolution. The "Appeal to Heaven" flag appeared prominently at the "Stop the Steal" rally and at the U.S. Capitol as rioters surrounded and stormed the building.

Alito was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2006 by former President George W. Bush, continuing a conservative shift on the High Court that was further solidified by three successful appointments made by Trump. The Supreme Court's choice of cases to hear and its rulings have increasingly skewed conservative on issues ranging from reproductive rights to the Second Amendment and religious liberty.

One recent study of the Supreme Court's political makeup found that although the American public sometimes misreads the leanings of the court, surveys show that its views are now more conservative than those held by the public at large. The study was led by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and published two years ago in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"We show that after conservatives achieved a 6-3 majority in late 2020, the court is ideologically closer to the conservative Republican voter," said Stephen Jessee, the study's co-author and an associate professor of government. "That is to the ideological right of roughly three-quarters of all Americans."