Another Political Signal on an Alito Home

A beach home and “An Appeal to Heaven”

Via the NYT: Another Provocative Flag Was Flown at Another Alito Home.

Last summer, two years after an upside-down American flag was flown outside the Virginia home of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., another provocative symbol was displayed at his vacation house in New Jersey, according to interviews and photographs.

This time, it was the “Appeal to Heaven” flag, which, like the inverted U.S. flag, was carried by rioters at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Also known as the Pine Tree flag, it dates back to the Revolutionary War, but largely fell into obscurity until recent years and is now a symbol of support for former President Donald J. Trump, for a religious strand of the “Stop the Steal” campaign and for a push to remake American government in Christian terms.

Three photographs obtained by The New York Times, along with accounts from a half-dozen neighbors and passers-by, show that the Appeal to Heaven flag was aloft at the Alito home on Long Beach Island in July and September of 2023. A Google Street View image from late August also shows the flag.

So, what does the flag represent?

Until about a decade ago, the Appeal to Heaven flag was mostly a historical relic. But since then it has been revived to represent “a theological vision of what the United States should be and how it should be governed,” said Matthew Taylor, a religion scholar at the Institute of Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies. He is also the author of a forthcoming book tracing how a right-wing Christian author and speaker who repopularized the flag helped propel Mr. Trump’s attempt to overturn the election.

That figure, Dutch Sheets, has led a yearslong campaign to present the flag to political figures, including Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and vice-presidential pick, and an Indiana gubernatorial candidate whom Mr. Sheets wrapped in the flag at a recent rally. Republican members of Congress and state officials have displayed the flag as well, among them Doug Mastriano, a Pennsylvania state senator and a leader of the “Stop the Steal” campaign. The highest-ranking elected official known to show the flag is Representative Mike Johnson, who hung it at his office last fall shortly after becoming speaker of the House.


In 2013, Mr. Sheets, a prominent figure in a far-right evangelical movement that scholars have called the New Apostolic Reformation, discovered the nearly forgotten flag and made it the symbol of his ambitions to steep the country and the government in Christianity, he wrote in a 2015 book also titled “An Appeal to Heaven.”

“Rally to the flag,” he wrote. “God has resurrected it for such a time as this. Wave it outwardly: wear it inwardly. Appeal to heaven daily for a spiritual revolution that will knock out the Goliaths of our day.”

The flag’s origins are from the Revolutionary War and the phrase is from John Locke, and is specifically linked to the notion of rebellion. As such, it does have an element of historical curiosity linked to it. However, as the piece notes it was utterly obscure until Sheets actively revived it. While one might conceive of an individual seeing such a flag an thinking it was appealing to them in some way, it isn’t the kind of thing one expects a person to randomly decide that they want to fly it.

There is no doubt that the flag has taken on a very specific political message in recent years and it strikes me as highly unlikely that the Alitos were unaware of this fact. Flying a flag is a rather deliberate act, and it is one that almost certainly is more than just an aesthetic choice, but is almost definitionally an act designed to send a message.

At the barest of minimums, a Supreme Court Justice would have to know that any flag flown at his property is an invitation for others to see a message and to have to interpret its meaning.

As the linked piece notes, the flag was quite prominent at the Stop the Steal rally on January 6th, and was also seen at the attack on the capitol. Apart from that, it has clearly become a symbol of a specific interaction of right-wing political Christianity.

This is not the kind of thing that ought to be flown at the home of a Supreme Court Justice.

Judges are not supposed to give any impression of bias, yet the flag could be seen as telegraphing the Alitos’ views — and at a time when the justices were on the cusp of adopting a new ethics code. “We all have our biases, but the good judge fights against them,” said Charles Geyh, a law professor at Indiana University Bloomington. “When a judge celebrates his predispositions by hoisting them on a flag,” he added, “that’s deeply disturbing.”

When coupled with the upside-down American flag previously discussed, Justice Alito is sending strong signals that he does not feel the need to even appear to be unbiased and fair. He certainly does not appear to care that he helping to further erode public confidence in the Court.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. drj says:

    He certainly does not appear to care that he helping to further erode public confidence in the Court.

    I don’t think Alito cares too much about public confidence. Perhaps he cares about the confidence of the kind of people who matter to him. As for the rest:

    Oderint, dum metuant.

    I’m not even kidding.

  2. Jen says:

    It is problematic, to say the least, that those who sit on the highest court in the land exercise such poor judgment.

  3. MarkedMan says:


    It is problematic, to say the least, that those who sit on the highest court in the land exercise such poor judgment.

    How about: “It is problematic that those who sit on the highest court of the land are religious fanatics who don’t really believe in democracy or in basic American ideals”?

  4. Assad K says:

    Oh, that Mrs Alito, always causing problems with her silliness that her husband knows nothing about.

  5. Joe says:

    @Assad K: Silly Mrs. Alito still has not demonstrated (that we are yet aware of) nearly as much active partisanship as Ginni Thomas. Wives are not their husbands and husbands are not their wives, but it stretches credulity to think there is no commonality of belief in a household that spends so much energy expressing an opinion. It also should not be too much to ask that the household of a judge or Justice be included in the appearance of bias. The judge’s and Justice’s position is one of public trust, so sorry you cannot fly your freak flag(s) without consequences.

  6. Gavin says:

    All of these things are clearly justified because the Demoncrats failed the nomination of Robert Bork, who was equally above reproach in his even-handedness.
    Note that Scalia was Reagan’s replacement for Bork. I’m not sure who’s worse.
    This all strikes me as Fed Society trying to force into power the patronage/heir systems that are currently paralyzing Britain because nobody actually likes democracy… but keeps the Tories elected.
    The reason this should be infuriating is that the actual backers of FedSoc are only dedicated to strip-mining the US and moving on to the next country once the vultures are through. They’re not American in any way, and Alito’s nonsense reflects that kind of like an iceberg.

  7. Kingdaddy says:

    Much of the news coverage focuses on the January 6 connection, but gives less attention to the Christian Nationalist and Christian Dominionist usage of the flag. The implication that a Supreme Court judge might believe that the Bible (or a particular reading of it) is a higher law than the Constitution, and that Christians should run every important institution so that they can apply their peculiar interpretation of “God’s Law,” is deeply disturbing, to put it lightly. Sympathizing with 1/6 insurrectionists is reprehensible. The possibility of a Justice helping to subvert the American political and legal order in the name of theocracy is terrifying.

    (By the way, Mike Johnson has put the same flag outside the Speaker’s office.)

  8. Joe says:

    @Kingdaddy: The same people who scream about Sharia law would impose a “Christian” theocracy in a heartbeat. And I doubt it would be much different than Sharia law.

  9. Jen says:


    “It is problematic that those who sit on the highest court of the land are religious fanatics who don’t really believe in democracy or in basic American ideals”

    The first amendment guarantees no religious tests. That applies to everyone, up to and including Supreme Court justices. The fact that they are religious fanatics would not matter, if they truly did believe in democracy and basic American ideals. So, as an American who believes in the Constitution, I object to the first part of your statement but agree with the second part.

  10. Gavin says:

    Be careful — “being openminded” does not mean being so open minded your brain is falling out. Considerate does not mean “considering” the views of an outwardly, explicitly inconsiderate person.

    “Being a fanatic” is diametrically opposed to democracy and American values. It’s important to be very clear that it’s not the religion that’s the problem….. it’s Alito’s fanaticism. And a fun part of that fanaticism is the belief that “Lying For The Lord” is not only perfectly fine but something they look forward to doing.

  11. drj says:


    But can fanaticism (of whatever kind) ever be reconciled with constitutional democracy?

    Fanaticism isn’t just about believing something very strongly, it’s also (more so, IMO) about an uncompromising refusal to let anything stand in the way of one’s personal beliefs.

    No judge should ever be a fanatic.

  12. Kingdaddy says:

    It’s important to remember that totalitarian regimes usually have constitutions and laws full of very liberal, fair-minded language. But since the Party really rules, and the laws are just instruments of that rule, the laws as written go out the proverbial window (along with some political opponents).

  13. MarkedMan says:

    @Jen: I think we take the “no religious tests” way too far. There are religions that are simply incompatible with holding a given office. For example, a committed Christian Scientist should not hold a medical position in any government. And a Dominionist such as Alito should definitely not be in a position requiring respect for and adherence to democratic norms and American ideals. His beliefs are simply incompatible. He doesn’t get a pass because he says those beliefs are religious in nature. In the end, they are his beliefs.

  14. Jen says:


    Fair points. I am not a fan of religious fanaticism, but try hard not to allow my personal feelings about it get too close to saying deeply held religious beliefs is a disqualifier.

  15. Roger says:

    I concluded years ago that Alito is a partisan hack whose priorities when deciding a case are (1) making the country conform to his religious beliefs, (2) enacting his partisan political beliefs, and (3) triggering the libs. It’s always been hard to believe his opinions are based on the law, but I had some hope that other justices (not named Thomas) would be constrained by the historical norms of the court. Today the court handed down a racial gerrymandering decision ( authored by Alito but joined by all of the Republican-appointed justices that ignores the ordinary standard of review to reverse a lower-court finding that South Carolina’s voting map violated the Constitution. It’s the latest in a continuing string of decisions finding that the law is whatever the current Court wants it to be, precedent and standard of review be damned.

    The timing of the flag story being immediately followed by this opinion would be funny if it weren’t so sad. I started law school four decades ago believing that judges stood for the impartial application of the law. What a sucker.

  16. gVOR10 says:

    @Jen: You’re running up against Karl Popper’s Paradox of Tolerance, a tolerant society cannot tolerate intolerance. Intolerance would destroy the tolerant society. We can tolerate Alito’s Catholicism. We cannot tolerate Dominionism which would impose Catholic practice on the rest of us. The hypothetical test would be not of his religious belief, but his civic belief that he can impose his beliefs on the rest of us. Admittedly a fine distinction.

  17. just nutha says:

    @gVOR10: Count on one thing; if Dominionists gain power, either the Protestants will betray the Catholics or vice versa. It’s the nature of how power corrupts.

    ETA: “Finally they came for me, but by that time anyone who would have said anything was already gone.”

  18. Ken_L says:

    Ironic that this story breaks in the same week an absurd bill was introduced making presidential candidates responsible for disclosing all sorts of information about their family members’ financial affairs

    If my father had demanded “a full and complete statement with respect to all [my] loans or loan repayments, including the terms and repayment schedules of each such loan or loan repayments” I would have told him to pound sand.