Samuel Alito sees himself as an enforcer of morality, not a mere judge of the law

Samuel Alito sees himself as an enforcer of morality, not a mere judge of the law
FILE- In this Feb. 11, 2017, file photo, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito smiles as he delivers a keynote speech at the Claremont Institute's annual dinner in Newport Beach, Calif. Alito said Wednesday, March 15, during a speech sponsored by a Catholic organization in New Jersey that the U.S. is entering a period when its commitment to religious liberty is being tested. Photo: (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

When documentarian Lauren Windsor released her surreptitiously recorded conversation with Samuel Alito and his wife, Martha-Ann, at a dinner reception last week, lots of the attention was on Martha-Ann’s comments. After all, it’s not often that you get to hear a Supreme Court justice’s wife vitriolic rant about her neighbors’ Pride flags and her fantasy to design her own flag with “Shame” emblazoned on it in Italian.

Following the controversy about the flags flying on the Alito’s properties broadly hinting at their sympathy for far-right causes, Martha-Ann’s comments were bound to attract the bulk of attention. But lost in the focus on flags were her husband’s comments, which were far more chilling, especially since he’s in a position of power.

Windsor attended a dinner reception hosted by the Supreme Court Historical Society, which has become a kind of go-to place for right-wingers wanting to rub elbows with justices. For a mere $500, which Windsor paid, the justices and guests mingle in an atmosphere of convivial conservativism. It’s no wonder that the Alitos spoke with such candor, as they believed themselves to be among like-minded believers.

In his comments to Windsor, Justice Alito displayed a winner-take-all attitude toward the current political battles, with the suggestion that it’s a spiritual war.

“I don’t know that we can negotiate with the left in the way that needs to happen for the polarization to end,” Windsor says, posing as a conservative. “I think that it’s a matter of, like, winning.” 

“I think you’re probably right,” Alito replies. “On one side or the other — one side or the other is going to win. I don’t know. I mean, there can be a way of working — a way of living together peacefully, but it’s difficult, you know, because there are differences on fundamental things that really can’t be compromised. They really can’t be compromised. So it’s not like you are going to split the difference.”

The idea that it’s us vs. them is ingrained in the MAGA universe, heightening the stakes for any debate. Everything becomes a huge moral fight, instead of an interpretation of the law. It’s why the right compared the Supreme Court ruling granting the right to marriage equality to the reprehensible Dred Scott decision, which ruled that individual Black people were not full American citizens. In this viewpoint, supporting marriage equality is the same as supporting slavery — there can be no compromise on the issue.

Of course, Alito has made it all too clear that’s exactly how he feels. He has said he thinks the Supreme Court made a mistake in granting same-sex couples the right to marry, and he would like nothing more than to overturn that right.

Perhaps even more frightening, however, was Alito’s response to Windsor’s prompting about religion. “People in this country who believe in God have got to keep fighting for that — to return our country to a place of godliness,” she said.

“I agree with you. I agree with you,” Alito replied.

The idea that Alito has assigned himself the role of returning the country to what he determines to be “godliness” is frightening — to say nothing of unethical. His role is to interpret the law, not serve as a spiritual overlord.

His role is certainly not to boast about his power. But what Alito lacks in discretion he more than makes up for in arrogance. When Alito wrote the decision overturning Roe v. Wade, he reveled in the response he got from critics. (There’s also the lingering suspicion that he leaked the decision in advance to ensure it wouldn’t get watered down.)

Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson (GA), lead sponsor of the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act, blasted the Alitos as “extremists.”

“These disclosures have shown a real need for the recusal apparatus to be more than just the justices deciding for themselves whether or not to recuse,” Johnson told Vanity Fair.

Alito will never recuse himself. If anything, he will double down. More than any other justice, Alito tailors his decisions to benefit Republicans. He doesn’t interpret the law. He justifies its use to support his ideology.

Chief Justice Roberts is a conservative as well, but when Windsor asked him about putting the nation on a “moral path,” he disagreed.

“Would you want me to be in charge of putting the nation on a more moral path?” he responded. “That’s for people we elect. That’s not for lawyers.” He also knocked down the idea that America is a “Christian nation,” calling out his “Jewish and Muslim friends.”

While it would have been nice for Roberts to acknowledge that people have the right to have no faith at all, at least he was nodding to the concept that the Court isn’t a moral arbiter. Alito, on the other hand, is happy to embrace that concept, which makes him a lousy judge and a dangerous one.

Unfortunately, Alito is exactly the kind of judge that Trump will be looking to appoint to lower federal courts across the nation if he wins re-election. Trump doesn’t care about the law (as his felony counts prove). He cares about power. Right-wing ideologues like Alito are happy to deliver that power to Trump because he is willing to deliver the vision of America that they want. You don’t need a flag to see that truth. You only have to listen to the words coming out of Alito’s mouth.

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