Concerns for Black communities mount amid secret recording of Supreme Court Justice Alito

A leaked audio recording of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and his wife is sending shockwaves throughout the civil rights community and the halls of Congress, stoking fear that the court’s apparent political and ideological bias will bring more harm to Black and other marginalized communities. 

“I’m concerned that a court that’s reactionary, which is what we now have, will impede the equality of Black and brown Americans,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who serves on the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability. 

Khanna told theGrio he is worried about the consequences of a Supreme Court composed of justices deciding cases based on their personal and religious beliefs instead of fair and balanced interpretations of the law.

The progressive lawmaker warned, “We have voting rights that are at stake. We have abortion rights that are at stake. We have issues of mass incarceration that are at stake. Issues of student loan forgiveness that are at stake.”

“This court has gutted all of those, all the while pretending that they had no political views,” Svante Myrick, president of People For the American Way, told theGrio. “But really, they were just lying and covering up their deeply seated, bigoted, frankly, and overly zealous worldview.”

The secret recording by liberal filmmaker Lauren Windsor exposed Alito and his wife, Martha-Ann Alito, espousing beliefs that America’s laws should be bound by a Christian theology. Windsor, who went undercover as a Catholic supporter of Alito at a Supreme Court gala on June 3, suggested that “winning” against liberals was the only way for religious conservatives to end America’s “polarization.” 

Alito, who wrote the majority opinion in the court’s ruling that ended federal abortion protections, responded that Windsor was “probably right” and that “one side or the other is going to win.” The conservative justice also claimed that “there are differences on fundamental things that really can’t be compromised.” 

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito is stirring new concerns in the civil rights community after an audio recording was released of him and his wife, Martha-Ann Alito. (Photo by Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images)

Additionally, his wife, who was also recorded by Windsor, expressed disdain for the rainbow pride flag. In response to the pro-LGBTQ flag outside of a neighbor’s home, Martha-Ann Alito shared that she would like to fly a “Sacred Heart of Jesus flag” outside her home or design one of her own with the Italian word for “shame.”

Myrick said the Supreme Court’s rulings that have “hugely undermined LGBTQ rights” should concern those who care about the civil rights of Black Americans. Not only is there an “intersection between Black rights in America and the LGBTQ community,” but such rulings could lead to a return of “making it legal again to discriminate.”

“If you say, ‘Well, I don’t have to bake a cake for a gay person,’ it is a short skip to saying ‘I don’t have to hire a Black person if I don’t like Black people,’” he said.

Myrick, who is the former Democratic mayor of Ithaca, New York, said the court’s conservative majority has made critical rulings that harmed Black communities, include gutting the Voting Rights Act and granting states the right to “discriminate against voters of color and to set up unfair voting systems.” 

Two weeks before this latest controversy, Alito’s wife came under fire for reports that she flew flags associated with far-right causes, including solidarity with supporters of former President Donald Trump who were responsible for the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection in backlash to President Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential win. The Jan. 6 mob of thousands was led by Trump’s false claims of voter fraud, as his 2020 campaign tried to overturn votes through legal challenges that especially targeted counties with large Black populations. 

Khanna expressed outrage that Alito has not recused himself from Jan. 6-related criminal cases before the court against Trump and insurrectionists in light of the revelation. “It’s a blatant conflict of interest for him to express his views and then not to recuse himself in cases where these views are in question,” the congressman told theGrio.

Theologian and activist Joseph Tolton said there’s a through line between the apparent religious indoctrination of the conservative justices (and Republican lawmakers and activists), and what liberals argue is a legislative and judicial attack on the civil rights of Black Americans, including overturning race-based college admissions, or affirmative action.

“There is a deep and intimate connection between the promotion of this theocratic style of governance and autocracy and attack on the African-American civil rights infrastructure,” Tolton told theGrio. “They are clear that if there is a group of people who are the natural voices to respond to [injustices], it’s African-Americans.”

The ordained bishop and theological scholar said that as conservatives are “advancing this autocracy that’s undergirded by theocracy,” they are also determined to systematically “silence, mute and make impotent the African-American civil rights machine.”

The recording of the Alitos also comes after a series of bombshell reports revealing that Justice Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas accepted lavish gifts from billionaire donors and conservative litigants and failed to report them on their financial disclosure statements. On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unveiled documents it obtained that found Thomas failed to disclose an additional three trips aboard the private jet of billionaire Harlan Crow.

Clarence Thomas,
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was in the spotlight again this week over undisclosed gifts from billionaire Harlan Crow. (AP Photo/John Amis, File)

“Clarence Thomas and Alito have spit on the court and our Constitution,” said Myrick, who argued the millions worth of gifts have “affected their judgment.” He called for both justices to resign “immediately” over what he described as a “secret agenda” afoot to “allow the church to take over the state.”

Myrick continued that if Justice Sonia Sotomayor “were on a beach in the Caribbean with [liberal billionaire] George Soros, they would be storming the Capitol four hours after the news broke.” He added, “In a sane country, Republicans would be joining Democrats demanding that they resign and be replaced with impartial judges.”

Concerns over the conservative Supreme Court justices’ political and personal biases have led Democrats to demand ethics and institutional reforms, to the chagrin of Republicans, who have called the proposals an overreach. Those reforms would include establishing enforceable ethics rules, age limits, and term limits and expanding the number of justices in the court. 

“As the evidence mounts for the need for ethics reform to build trust in the Supreme Court, we need full-throated responses from Congress,” said Maya Wiley, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “We continue to witness an alarming pattern of behavior that raises serious questions about the impartiality and integrity of our nation’s highest court and the justices who make critically important decisions impacting the civil and human rights of every person in America.”

Myrick of People For the American Way said the 2024 elections make clear what’s at stake regarding the Supreme Court, where justices serve lifetime appointments.

“You’re not just voting for who’s going to be in office for the next four years as president, but you could be voting for who’s going to appoint a Supreme Court justice,” he noted. “Is it going to be people like Ketanji Brown Jackson who President Biden appointed, or will it be more extreme right-wing Evangelical zealots?”

He added, “Making sure that we have fair and impartial, non-biased and non-bigoted judges is going to be the key to our collective liberation.”

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