Red Flags Over the Supreme Court

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

America’s highest court is supposed to be impartial — especially when it comes to our elections and constitutional rights.

Unfortunately, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has been sending not very subtle signals that he’s aligned with former President Donald Trump’s MAGA movement — and the exclusionary Christian nationalism that motivates many of Trump’s followers.

Americans learned recently that an “Appeal to Heaven” flag was flown over Alito’s beach house last summer. We also found out that an upside-down American flag flew at Alito’s home in the days following the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. Both flags were carried by insurrectionists fighting to keep Donald Trump in office after he lost the 2020 election.

Alito blamed his wife for flying the upside-down flag and claimed, not very convincingly, that it had nothing to do with politics. But he hasn’t publicly explained why the Appeal to Heaven flag was flying over his beach house.

The flag, which features an evergreen tree and a phrase taken from the writings of John Locke to justify rebellion against unjust authority, was used by some patriots during the Revolutionary War.

But in recent years, it’s been adopted as a call to spiritual and political warfare against the idea of secular government — and a rallying point for those who believe Trump was anointed by God.

Dutch Sheets, an “apostle” within a movement known as the New Apostolic Reformation, has adopted and promoted the flag for the last decade. Sheets teaches that the church is meant to be “God’s governing force on the Earth.” Promoting a 2018 gathering at Trump’s hotel in Washington, D.C. called “The Turnaround: An Appeal to Heaven,” Sheets declared, “The Church is about to move into a completely new level of enforcing Kingdom rule and the will of God on earth.”

This dominionist ideology is in direct conflict with the constitutional separation of church and state that preserves all Americans’ religious freedom and protects equality under law for people of every faith and no faith.

During Trump’s presidency, Sheets and his allies prayed that God would create more vacancies on the Supreme Court for Trump to fill. After Trump lost the 2020 election, Sheets was extremely active in the religious-right wing of the “Stop the Steal” movement to keep Trump in power, insisting that God did not want Joe Biden to be president. “Appeal to Heaven” flags were all over the Capitol grounds on January 6, 2021, along with other symbols of Christian nationalist ideology.

It’s impossible to believe that the intelligent and politically well-connected Justice Alito isn’t aware of the current meaning of the Appeal to Heaven flag. By flying that flag, hes called into question his ability to be impartial — and is making it harder for Americans to respect the court or expect its current majority to defend the rights of all Americans.

The red flags over the Supreme Court are metaphorical. But the flags flown over Alito’s homes, and the messages they have sent, are very real. At the very least, Justice Alito should recuse himself from cases involving the 2020 election. [Editors: He refused to.] And Americans should consider the impact that the Supreme Court will have on our rights and freedoms.