Sitting federal judge hits Justice Alito for eroding ‘trust,’ taking ‘sides’ after flag controversy

In a New York Times op-ed on Friday, sitting federal judge Michael Ponsole, who was appointed by former President Bill Clinton, spoke out against the upside-down flag flying at Justice Samuel Alito’s home, calling it unethical.

“Whether it was legal or not, the flag should not have been flown in the way it was flown at that time. Frankly, any judge with a sane sense of ethics would have realized immediately that flying the flag at that time and in the way it was flown was inappropriate and foolish.” Ponsole says:.

As first reported by The New York Times, an upside-down American flag — a symbol used by supporters of Donald Trump who say President Biden did not win the 2020 election — was seen flying at Alito’s home in the weeks after the Jan. 6 riot.

“The courts function because people have confidence in their judges. Taking sides like this undermines that trust,” Ponser, a senior judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, said in a continued criticism of the Supreme Court.

Alito previously told Fox News that it was his wife who put up the flag in response to insults from neighbors.

“Whether it’s considered crossing the line or coming close to it, you should never do it. Displaying such a flag is like putting a ‘Stop Stealing’ bumper sticker on your car. You should never do it,” Ponsole wrote.

Michael Ponsall, a sitting federal judge appointed by President Bill Clinton, spoke out against the flag that was flown upside down at Justice Samuel Alito’s home. Western New England University
An “Appeal to Heaven” flag was also seen flying at Alito’s beach house in New Jersey. Google Maps

Ponsole also addressed the fact that it was Alito’s wife who raised the flag.

“Being the spouse of a judge is not easy. On the one hand, one should not waive the right to freedom of expression at the marriage altar. On the other hand, it is not unreasonable to expect a spouse not to embarrass their loved ones or complicate their professional life,” Ponsor continued.

A few days later, The New York Times reported that another symbol flown by Trump supporters, the “Appeal to Heaven” flag, had been spotted flying at Alito’s beach house in New Jersey. The flag, also known as the Pine Tree Flag, dates back to the Revolutionary War and is also associated with a desire for a Christian government, according to The New York Times.

Justice Samuel Alito previously told Fox News that it was his wife who put up the flag in response to insults from neighbors. Reuters

“Basic ethical behavior should not depend on laws or rules; it should be built into a judge’s DNA. That did not happen here. The flag raising may or may not have been illegal, but it certainly did not help when it came to the public’s perception of the court’s integrity,” Ponsole wrote.

Ponsole has previously criticized In July 2023, as a federal judge, he wrote an op-ed in The New York Times questioning the Supreme Court’s ethical standards and calling on the justices to establish a “formal ethics mechanism.”

Another sitting federal judge, Reggie Walton, also criticized the former president on CNN, and former Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a sitting justice who frequently criticized Trump when he was a presidential candidate.

People gathered on Independence Mall in support of Trump, some carrying “Appeal to Heaven” flags. AP

“He’s a fake,” Ginsburg said in 2016. According to CNN:“He’s inconsistent. He says whatever comes into his head. He has a really big ego… How did he get away with not filing his tax returns? The press seems to be very lenient with him.”

Justice Alito has faced repeated urging from members of the media and Democratic lawmakers to recuse himself from Trump-related litigation over the flag controversy.