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Secret Recording of SCOTUS Justice Samuel Alito Offers “Window” into His Conservative Ideology

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We speak with filmmaker Lauren Windsor, whose recorded conversations with U.S. Supreme Court justices have sparked the latest firestorm over how the country’s top jurists are ruling on consequential cases. Windsor posed as a conservative activist to speak with Justice Samuel Alito at a June 3 event of the Supreme Court Historical Society, where he appeared to endorse running the U.S. as a Christian theocracy and said he was doubtful about living peacefully with political opponents. In a separate recording from the same event, Alito’s wife, Martha-Ann Alito, complained about rainbow flags during Pride Month and made other incendiary remarks. Alito has refused to recuse himself from cases involving Donald Trump and the January 6 insurrection even after photos emerged of two flags associated with election deniers flying in front of his homes. “It wasn’t hard to speak with either of them,” says Windsor, who collected the recordings as part of her upcoming film Gonzo for Democracy and paid a total of $650 to get into the event. “These are individuals who have to operate professionally at the highest degree of discretion,” she says of Supreme Court justices. “It should tell you something that [Alito] felt comfortable enough to make these admissions to an almost virtual stranger.”

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NERMEEN SHAIKH: Republicans have blocked a bill in the Senate to implement a Supreme Court code of ethics after a series of reports of ethics violations, including that justices accepted unreported gifts and travel. This comes after Justice Samuel Alito refused to recuse himself from former President Donald Trump’s immunity case after photos emerged of two flags associated with election deniers flying in front of his homes. The “An Appeal to Heaven” flag flew at Alito’s New Jersey vacation house last summer. It features a pine tree and is found in far-right Christian circles. And an upside-down U.S. flag flew outside Justice Alito’s Virginia home in January 2021, a symbol used by election deniers.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, newly published audio reveals Justice Alito questioning whether the United States can overcome its polarized political divide, appearing to endorse a Christian theocracy. Alito made the comments at the annual dinner of the Supreme Court Historical Society on June 3rd. The audio was secretly recorded by documentarian Lauren Windsor, who posed as a conservative activist. In the recording, Justice Alito agrees when Windsor says she hopes to, quote, “return our country to a place of godliness.” Justice Alito appears to rule out compromise between polarized political factions.

JUSTICE SAMUEL ALITO: One side or the other is going to win. I don’t know. I mean, there can be 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’re going to split the difference.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In a separate recording from the same event, Justice Alito’s wife, Martha-Ann, complains about rainbow flags during Pride Month, quotes at length from the Bible, assails feminists as “feminazis” and boasts of her “German heritage.” This is part of Lauren Windsor’s recording of Martha-Ann Alito.

MARTHA-ANN ALITO: You know what I want? I want a Sacred Heart of Jesus flag, because I have to look across the lagoon at the Pride flag for the next month.

LAUREN WINDSOR: Exactly.

MARTHA-ANN ALITO: And he’s like, “Oh, please, don’t put up a flag.” I said, “I won’t do it, because I’m deferring to you. But 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. There will be all kinds. I made a flag in my head. This is how I satisfy myself. I made a flag. It’s white and has yellow and orange flames around it. And in the middle is the word “vergogna.” “Vergogna” in Italian means “shame.”

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Martha-Ann Alito, wife of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, speaking in this secret recording to our next guest, Lauren Windsor, executive producer of The Undercurrent and the upcoming documentary film Gonzo for Democracy.

Lauren, welcome to Democracy Now! In a moment, we’re also going to be joined by Justin Elliott. But why don’t we start off, even before getting into the content of these recordings — can you talk about the scene there, how you got into the Supreme Court Historical Society event, that had so many of the Supreme Court justices? And if you can tell us who was there and how you ended up talking to the Alitos, as well as the chief justice?

LAUREN WINDSOR: Sure. Thanks for having me on, Amy.

So, I bought a ticket. I was a registered, dues-paying member of this society. So, I showed up. I walked in and, you know, into — straight into the cocktail reception. At first, it appeared as though Justice Alito wouldn’t show up. And just for some context, I had gone to the dinner the prior year, in 2023, and spoken with Justice Alito. I didn’t publish anything from that reaction at the — that conversation at the time, because it just wasn’t newsworthy. And so, I thought, in the intervening year, in 2024, that he might have some different responses, so I was hoping that he would show up. And he did. I spoke with him in the cocktail reception before the dinner, his wife after the dinner in the Great Hall upstairs, so there were two different, separate conversations. But it wasn’t hard to speak with either of them.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about who you presented yourself as to them, why they spoke to you?

LAUREN WINDSOR: I said my name was Lauren. They didn’t ask for any more than that. And, you know, I presented myself as a fan and a Catholic and asked them questions. There was very little questioning of me, really none whatsoever.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Lauren, could you explain the significance of the venue, at the Supreme Court Historical Society? What is this organization?

LAUREN WINDSOR: Well, so, it wasn’t at the Supreme Court Historical Society. It was at the Supreme Court, which I think makes this all the more compelling, when you have a sitting Supreme Court justice in the holy of holies of jurisprudence telling us that he can’t be impartial. This is bedrock. This is foundational to our democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Lauren, talk about what most struck you about what each of them said. In fact, this was not your first conversation with Justice Alito.

LAUREN WINDSOR: Right. So, when I initially talked to him in 2023, I asked him, I said, “You know, everything is so polarized in this country right now, and I just wonder how we ever get beyond that. Do you see a way to repair that rift in this country?” And he said something to the effect of, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t think that’s our role.” So, at the time, it was about as expected.

And I certainly didn’t go into either of these conversations thinking that I would be able to obtain a newsworthy conversation with a justice. These are individuals who have to operate professionally at the highest degree of discretion. So it should tell you something that he felt comfortable enough to make these admissions to an almost virtual stranger. Yes, we had met in 2023, but that interaction, you know, was maybe a maximum of five minutes, probably less.

And, yes, I brought up that interaction to give him some level of comfort this year, in 2024, but to assure him, “We’re rooting for you. We’re fans. We want you to know that you have all of the grit, and you’re a fighter.” And the saying “grit” was a bit of a wink to a tweet that Donald Trump had put out, where he said, “More justices should be like Justice Alito. They should have the grit that Justice Alito has.” So, it was a way of just being coy with him, of, “Hey, we’re on your side. We’re Trump supporters.”

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Could you comment also, Lauren, on some of the comments that his wife made, Martha-Ann Alito, including about designing a “vergogna” flag, the Italian word for “shame,” in response to LGBTQ+ Pride flags?

LAUREN WINDSOR: I’m sorry. I’m losing the audio. I can’t hear what you’re saying.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Can you hear me now, Lauren?

LAUREN WINDSOR: Vaguely. The audio is really low.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, why don’t we go to —

LAUREN WINDSOR: I can hear you now.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, you can hear us.

LAUREN WINDSOR: I can hear you now.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: OK. So let me repeat the question.

LAUREN WINDSOR: Sure.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Some of the comments made by Justice Alito’s wife, Martha-Ann Alito, about designing a “vergogna” flag, the Italian word for “shame,” in response to LGBTQ Pride flags, if you could comment on that and what else she said?

LAUREN WINDSOR: I found it pretty shocking that the wife of a sitting Supreme Court justice would be so comfortable having such a discussion. I was a stranger. I had never met Martha-Ann Alito before. When she said that it gave her satisfaction — “It satisfies me to imagine the flags that I would create” — it was shocking to me that she would feel that level of comfort. I think that it’s indicative of her level of being ideological, and also a window into her husband’s ideology, that she would be that, I think, aggressive in her antagonism of the LGBTQ community.

AMY GOODMAN: And I also wanted to go back to Samuel Alito, a very short clip that you recorded, when he agreed with you that people need to fight, quote, “to return our country to a place of godliness.” Listen carefully.

LAUREN WINDSOR: People in this country who believe in God have got to keep fighting for that, to return our country to a place of godliness.

JUSTICE SAMUEL ALITO: Oh, I agree with you. I agree with you.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Lauren Windsor, I’m wondering if you can comment. These secret recordings have launched a firestorm in the journalistic community, many saying that you shouldn’t have done this undercover. What is your response to having access to these justices?

LAUREN WINDSOR: Well, I think that it’s really cynical to attack me for a lack of ethics when we’re talking about a Supreme Court that, you know, we just saw Clarence Thomas have to refile his ethics reports because of ProPublica’s reporting exposing millions of dollars of gifts from GOP donors. I would ask journalists not be so credulous to the right-wing spin on this, that — what incentive structure do I have to lie about this? You know, this is a David-and-Goliath situation here. I’m really hitting a hornets’ nest, when you’re talking about a whole network. The weight, the heft of the conservative legal movement is coming after me. And if you think for a moment that I didn’t have to vet this thoroughly with my attorneys and with Rolling Stone's attorneys, my partner in distributing this audio, I need you to really think — read between the lines here and see who's attacking who, and why, and what they’re trying to protect, because at the end of day, you know, it doesn’t do me any good to torch my own credibility and also open myself up to these endless right-wing attacks from Leonard Leo and his associates. This is the Leo court at the end of the day.

AMY GOODMAN: And how easy is it to get to speak to justices of the Supreme Court, who make the — you know, who are ultimately responsible for so many of the laws of this land?

LAUREN WINDSOR: Well, if you have $150, you can become a dues-paying member of the Supreme Court Historical Society. Then you can buy a $500 ticket to this dinner. So it’s about $650 a year in order to rub elbows with the Supreme Court justices.

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