“Experts Question Alito’s Failure to Recuse Himself in Flag Controversy”

Adam Liptak for the NYT:

Supreme Court justices seldom give reasons for their decisions to recuse themselves. Even rarer are explanations for deciding to participate in a case when they have been accused of conflicts of interest.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. is an exception. He seems positively eager to explain himself. But whether his explanation has helped or hurt his cause is open to question.

On Wednesday, Justice Alito wrote letters to Democratic lawmakers saying he was not only permitted but also obligated to sit on two cases arising from the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol despite controversies over flags displayed outside his houses associated with the “Stop the Steal” movement.

Experts in legal ethics said they welcomed Justice Alito’s decision to explain himself. But they were not persuaded by the reasoning in his letters, which said the flags had been flown by his wife and so did not require him to step aside in the pending cases, on whether former President Donald J. Trump is immune from prosecution and on whether a federal obstruction law covers participants in the Jan. 6 assault….

Amanda Frost, a law professor at the University of Virginia, said the quality of the reasoning in Justice Alito’s letters had shortcomings.

“I agree that Justice Alito’s wife has a First Amendment right to express her views,” Professor Frost said. “But if she does so on their shared property, in a way that would lead a reasonable person to question his impartiality, then he should respond by recusing himself.”

Professor Frost added that her conclusion would be no different had the controversy involved a liberal member of the court like Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in 2020. “I would say the same,” she said, “if Justice Ginsburg’s husband had placed a ‘Gore won’ sign on the lawn of their shared home while the Bush-Gore election was being contested in the courts.”

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