Analysis: The Alitos, Project 2025 and the threat to democracy

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito is seen, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2006 in the East Room of the White House, with his wife, Martha-Ann, their son Phil, daughter, Laura, and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts prior to being sworn-in. (Photo: Shealah Craighead for the White House)

Sometimes you see a couple and think “those two were made for each other!” Such is the case for Samuel and Martha-Ann Alito. The U.S. Supreme Court justice and his wife have been revealed to be two right-wing extremist peas in an anti-democratic pod. Is anyone shocked that they are also virulently anti-LGBTQ?

Martha-Ann Alito has been at the center of controversy in recent weeks for her flag predilection. First, it was revealed she flew the upside down U.S. distress flag favored by insurrectionists from the Alito house immediately after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Then it was discovered she was flying a Christian nationalist flag from the couple’s summer house.

Now it turns out she wants to fly yet another flag—the Sacred Heart of Jesus favored by extremist Catholics (which the Alitos are) in response to Pride flags being flown this month. In a conversation with an independent filmmaker, Lauren Windsor, posing as a conservative supporter, Martha-Ann Alito expressed her dismay at having to look at the global — and what most consider benign — symbol of LGBTQ+ rights.

“You know what I want?” the justice’s wife said to Windsor, who secretly recorded the conversation during the Supreme Court Historical Society’s annual dinner on June 3.

“I want a Sacred Heart of Jesus flag because I have to look across the lagoon at the Pride flag for the next month.” In addition to being Pride month, June is also celebrated by Catholics as the month of the Sacred Heart.

Martha-Ann told Windsor that after she suggested the Sacred Heart of Jesus flag, her husband said, “Oh, please, don’t put up a flag.”

Martha-Ann said that she had agreed, for now, but that she had told him that “when you are free of this nonsense,” “I’m putting it up and I’m going to send them a message every day, maybe every week. I’ll be changing the flags.”

Martha-Ann detailed how her intent was to design her own flag, white with yellow and orange flames which would also read, “vergogna” which is Italian for “shame.”

Shame could be an appropriate word for both Alitos, though perhaps not as the flex Martha-Ann is thinking.

Justice Alito is the furthest right of the conservative court and has authored several of the most extreme opinions in recent years including the disastrous 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe v. Wade after 49 years, returning control of abortion to the states. Alito also ruled against LGBTQ+ rights last June in a case concerning a Christian web designer who refused to make wedding websites for gay couples. In that case, dissenting Justice Sonia Sotomayor accused her conservative colleagues in a 38-page dissent, of allowing businesses the right “to refuse to serve members of a protected class” for the first time in its history.

In 2015 Alito voted against the majority in Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. In February, Alito renewed his criticism of the high court’s landmark same-sex marriage ruling in a five-page statement as part of an order explaining why the court declined to hear a case involving a Missouri lawsuit. “Americans who do not hide their adherence to traditional religious beliefs about homosexual conduct will be ‘labeled as bigots and treated as such’ by the government,” he wrote.

Project 2025, the SCOTUS and theocracy

Windsor didn’t just speak with Martha-Ann Alito and it wasn’t just flag talk. Windsor also had an exchange with Justice Alito. In an audio recording first shared Monday with Rolling Stone, Windsor prompts Alito to reveal his perspective on religion and the court, as well as the status of the nation—all of which he could fundamentally influence in pending cases including presidential immunity, which could alter the election and upcoming court cases against Donald Trump.

Alito spoke assertively about the perceived ideological battle between the left and the right. He said there is a distinct difficulty in living “peacefully” with ideological opponents when there are “fundamental” differences that “can’t be compromised.”

Among those differences for Alito have been abortion rights, LGBTQ+ rights and religious freedom.

In that discourse with Windsor, Alito affirmed his support for religious freedoms, an issue that has repeatedly come before the SCOTUS, particularly with regard to LGBTQ+ rights and abortion.

Alito told Windsor, “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.”

Alito also told Windsor that people must fight to “return our country to a place of godliness.”

Windsor spoke with Rolling Stone about her decision to attend the event and record her conversation with Alito. “Because the Supreme Court is shrouded in secrecy, and they’re refusing to submit to any accountability in the face of overwhelming evidence of serious ethics breaches, I think that it’s justified to take these types of measures,” she says.

ProPublica reported that Alito failed to disclose a 2008 private jet flight provided by a billionaire conservative donor with business before the court.

Windsor told Rolling Stone she “wants to give the public a window into a body that is increasingly powerful and increasingly willing to overturn precedent.” She has been working on a documentary, “Gonzo for Democracy,” which will chronicle the growth of Trumpism, election denial and religious extremism.

“One of the main drivers for me in this work is showing Americans that we are at a crossroads: Do we embrace the idea of secular democracy and uphold that tradition, or do we start to transition into a Christian theocracy?” she adds.

A theocratic bent is part of the underpinning of the Project 2025 proposal crafted around a Donald Trump re-election. Developed by the far-right Heritage Foundation, Project 2025 is a set of policy initiatives written by Trump-supporting activists in consultation with various right-wing organizations that would transform the federal government into a tool of repression and political retribution — points Trump discusses at all his rallies and in interviews.

In the GOP vision of a second Trump presidency, Project 2025 would attack civil rights for people of color and LGBTQ+ people, target abortion rights nationwide, promote school privatization and deputize local law enforcement in a brutal anti-immigrant crackdown. Trump has said he wants to deport 11 million people.

The SPLC noted in their latest report that hate groups also launched campaigns to gain influence in mainstream politics through Project 2025.

Advocates respond

The outrage over the comments by the Alitos was swift among LGBTQ+ advocates.

Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of the LGBTQ+ media advocacy organization GLAAD, said in an email, “In public and private, the Alitos continue to reveal their contempt for LGBTQ people, as well as for basic civility, democracy, judicial ethics or even the appearance of impartiality.”

Ellis added, “This is what is truly shameful, not the private lives of other Americans who just want to be free from discrimination and unhinged behavior.”

Ellis asserted that the Alitos are out of touch with the American people on LGBTQ+ rights which Justice Alito has had a significant role in deciding for the nation. She said, “A supermajority of Americans support LGBTQ equality, and are just fine with the reality that LGBTQ people are living our lives, working, going to school, and raising families, yet our community members continue enduring anti-LGBTQ nonsense from extremists at the highest levels of government.”

The Pride flag, Ellis explained, is a simple way to manifest inclusion. “Pride flags represent diversity and welcome values that encourage safety and acceptance in our increasingly multicultural, multiracial country. Americans must elect responsible leaders who will demand equal justice under law and respect in everyday life.”

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, was among LGBTQ+ advocates responding to this most recent flag controversy. In an email, Pocan told The Hill, “It’s fitting that Mrs. Alito’s attitudes towards the queer community are as antiquated as her flags.”

Pocan said, “Many are rightfully concerned about the hyper-partisan opinions shared by both members of the Alito household, including the Justice’s ability to leave his personal political opinions at home.”

Pocan added, “Americans, especially women and the LGBTQI+ community, deserve to be able to trust that the Supreme Court won’t leave their rights flipped upside-down and strung up a flagpole — and right now, I’m not sure if they can.”

With major cases yet to be decided as the end of the 2023-24 SCOTUS session looms, how Alito’s attitudes—and the prospect of Project 2025—will reveal themselves in rulings, including those that could affect the presidential election, is a question many await.

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