Opinion: Michael Ian Black: Can We Stop Acting Shocked About Alito Family Shenanigans?

Animated GIF by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty
Animated GIF by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

I’m begging you—stop with the Alito nonsense.

If you’re at all plugged-in to politics, you’ve no doubt heard at least snippets of the undercover recordings made by the muckraker Lauren Windsor, which were made public Monday night. The recordings of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, and his wife, Martha-Ann, are juicy, but reveal nothing we didn’t already know about the Alito belief system. We already knew they’re deeply conservative, deeply religious, and represent the outer bounds of rightward thinking on the bench. Nothing about that is disqualifying.

Supreme Court justices, like all Americans, are allowed to hold opinions. They’re allowed to express those opinions, fly flags about those opinions, and generally be as obnoxious as every other American. The notion of an unbiased Supreme Court has always been a fiction, a fan dance designed to create the alluring illusion of impartiality.

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So now we’re supposed to act shocked when it turns out that the severely conservative Catholic Alito family are, in fact, severely conservative Catholics?

On Monday, MSNBC played a clip of Justice Alito speaking in Rome back in 2022, in which he expressed the same sentiment, saying, “Ultimately, if we are going to win the battle to protect religious freedom in an increasingly secular society, we will need more than positive law.”

(I had to look up the term “positive law,” which are just normal laws laid down by legislatures and constitutions, as contrasted with “natural law,” which refers to a universal morality that, supposedly, governs most human interactions.)

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In other words, he said the exact same thing in private that he did in public. Just because he didn’t know he was being recorded doesn’t make his comments to Windsor any more or less nefarious than the speech he delivered to his Roman audience.

Of the two Windsor recordings, the Alito of the Martha-Ann variety pours the most tea, coming across as haughty, vindictive, petty, and German. “Look at me, I'm German. I'm from Germany. My heritage is German. You come after me, I'm going to give it back to you.” As others have pointed out, we’re not yet far enough removed from the Second World War for one to use one’s vengeful Germanic nature as a selling point.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and his wife Martha-Ann.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and his wife Martha-Ann stand during a private ceremony for Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Supreme Court, on Sept. 23, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images

She also complained about the Pride flag her neighbors flew “across the lagoon,” commenting that she’d like to fly her own Sacred Heart of Jesus flag in opposition. I didn’t know there even was such a thing as a Sacred Heart of Jesus flag, but there is; it looks like something an albino would have tattooed on his back in a Dan Brown novel.

Martha-Ann has, of course, already been in the news of late regarding her passion for flag-flying, after raising an upside-down American flag at the Alito home in Virginia, and an Appeal to Heaven flag at her beach property, presumably the same property overlooking that super-gay lagoon. This is a woman who loves flags. She’s like a tyrannical Betsy Ross.

Commentators are also calling attention to the fact that Alito lied during his confirmation hearings. As Politico pointed out, during his 2006 confirmation hearings, Alito answered a question regarding Roe v. Wade like this: “It would be wrong for me to say to anybody who might be bringing any case before my court, ‘If you bring your case before my court, I’m not even going to listen to you. I’ve made up my mind on this issue.’”

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Of course, Alito had already made up his mind, just as the more liberal justices on the bench had already made up their own. Everybody already knew he had made up his mind; the reason the question was even asked is because everybody presumed they knew where he stood on Roe, and, as it happens, everybody was correct.

It was Alito who wrote the majority opinion overturning the law. He was selected for the high court because of his beliefs, not because he lacked them.

Samuel Alito is sworn in as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court as his wife Martha-Ann Alito holds a bible.

Samuel Alito is sworn in as Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court as his wife Martha-Ann Alito holds a bible during a ceremony in the East Room at the White House February 1, 2006 in Washington, DC.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Why is it surprising to anybody that putting dedicated conservatives on the bench will create a conservative Court? I understand the Supreme Court isn’t supposed to be an extension of the dominant political party at the time of a vacancy, but it is. So can we quit waving our hands in mock horror every time an Alito or Kavanaugh or Gorsuch or Barrett expresses their already-known political opinions?

Is there a solution to the problem of a Supreme Court unaccountable to rules of ethics or propriety?

Last year, following yet another Clarence Thomas controversy, the Court issued a formal code of ethics which includes the following tenet:


A. RESPECT FOR LAW. A Justice should respect and comply with the law and act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.

B. OUTSIDE INFLUENCE. A Justice should not allow family, social, political, financial, or other relationships to influence official conduct or judgment. A Justice should neither knowingly lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private interests of the Justice or others nor knowingly convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the Justice.”

Alito is obviously in violation of this ethical code, and so what?

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The code imposes no penalties for violations. Moreover, its language amounts to nothing more than a polite “pretty please,” considering its legalistic use of the word “should” instead of “will.” Nor do the actions of the teutonic Martha-Ann or insurrectionist Ginni Thomas fall under even these modest constrictions.

Yes, the Supreme Court is out of control. While condemnation is an effective tool to gin up outrage on the news shows, it does little to curtail bad behavior on the part of justices who seem more inclined to serve the conservative billionaire class that showers them with largesse rather than the Constitution they have sworn to uphold.

The only solution is the simplest one: vote. Elect representatives who will rein-in the Court and provide meaningful oversight to the most elite institution of our nation’s government. If that doesn’t work, maybe just send the Court gifts—I hear they like fancy vacations.

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