Continental Divides

Sullying the Stars and Stripes

The untoward spectacle, just recently coming to light, raises further concerns about ethics and impartiality on the nation’s highest bench

By John McCaslin

Next Friday, June 14, Montanans will observe Flag Day, extending an extra salute this year to Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito for reminding us to respect the U.S. Flag Code and American flag.

Referring of course to the upside-down Stars and Stripes that flew outside Alito’s home after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The untoward spectacle, just recently coming to light, raises further concerns about ethics and impartiality on the nation’s highest bench, and leaves one wondering if the conservative Alito, who last week rejected demands to recuse himself from two Jan. 6 cases before the Supreme Court, sympathizes with election deniers who similarly inverted the national flag.

Even outspoken Sen. Lindsey Graham, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and fellow GOP senators like John Thune of South Dakota, are questioning Alito’s “judgment,” despite the jurist pleading that it was his wife who sullied the American flag.

Which prompted my former newspaper colleague, Peter Steiner, for several decades the leading political cartoonist in Washington, D.C., to draw a young Sam Alito standing before his teacher’s desk giving the excuse, “My wife ate my homework.”

As a former daily political columnist in the nation’s capital, I was expecting Montana Sen. Steve Daines to be front and center among Republicans admonishing Alito’s dearth of propriety. After all, the tireless Daines has spent every Flag Day since 2018 renewing his call for Congress to “protect the sanctity of the American Flag.”

At the start of each Congress, Daines on Flag Day has reintroduced his own constitutional amendment to restore congressional oversight of Old Glory — stripped away from Capitol Hill by the Supreme Court in 1989-90 — and prohibit its physical desecration.

To his credit, the Montana senator will be back this Flag Day pushing for the measure’s passage:

“The American flag is recognized across the world as a symbol of hope and freedom, and it reminds us of the great sacrifices that American heroes have made underneath the Stars and Stripes. This year in honor of Flag Day, I’m calling on Congress to pass my constitutional amendment to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag.”

Hear, hear, senator.

Yet when I asked Daines’ office for the senator’s reaction to a Supreme Court justice, nominated by President George W. Bush, dissing the Stars and Stripes, I received this abrupt response from spokesperson Rachel Dumke:

“Senator Daines believes this is another shameful, politically motivated attack from the left on the Supreme Court.”

Oh, that’s right, we’re in the middle of an election year. Politics before country, as they say (no point in bringing up the “Appeal to heaven” flag, also raised by U.S. Capitol rioters, hoisted above Alito’s beach house last summer).

Here’s a quick refresher on the U.S. Flag Code:

Issued by presidential proclamation during World War I, and first adopted by Congress in the throes of World War II, the codified federal law stipulates in part that the American flag “should never be displayed with the union [stars] down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.”

As Daines rightfully reminded us this past Flag Day, “We must always protect the sanctity of the American flag.”

No better time to remind the senator, “You can’t have it both ways.”

John McCaslin is a longtime print and broadcast journalist and author.