A controversial flag thrust Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s wife in the spotlight. Who is she?

Martha-Ann Alito bursting into tears was one of the most talked-about moments of her husband’s 2006 confirmation hearings

Gustaf Kilander
Washington DC
Wednesday 29 May 2024 16:13 BST
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Related video: Justice Alito’s controversial flags, mixed reaction from lawmakers

The wife of Justice Samuel Alito has maintained a relatively low profile ever since her husband joined the highest court in the land in 2006.

But that all changed earlier this month, when The New York Times reported that an upside-down American flag favored by election deniers was flown outside the couple’s home — and Justice Alito blamed the debacle on his wife, Martha-Ann Alito.

So who is the Supreme Court justice’s now-infamous spouse? In a 2006 interview with The Sunday Star-Ledger, she was described as a former Libertarian who focused most on her family.

“For the most part, we all recognize that everyone has the right to say as they wish. The most amazing part is, why do people care about our life?” she told the paper about the scrutiny at the time.

“I have friends who have serious family and health issues, so for us, this was something that had to be endured,” she added. “It was not a big issue for us, it was going to happen positively or negatively. Those were the only two choices. God consoled us and supported us and provided us love. That was a really important part of what got us through. God and our family – we are a very small, close family.”

One of the most talked-about moments of Justice Alito’s confirmation hearings was when she burst into tears and left the room. On the third day of the hearings, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina mocked the aggressive questioning of Justice Alito, asking if he was a “closet bigot,” adding an apology to his family for having to “sit here and listen to this.”

“It was very spontaneous,” Ms Alito told The Sunday Star-Ledger. “And it was simply that one can endure blows, but when tenderness comes into the mix, your reserves are pretty much shot, at least for me.”

Martha-Ann Alito with her husband Justice Samuel Alito and President George W Bush in 2006
Martha-Ann Alito with her husband Justice Samuel Alito and President George W Bush in 2006 (Getty Images)

Eighteen years later, Ms Alito is back in the spotlight. The New York Times reported that the upside-down American flag was seen outside the Alitos home in Alexandria, Virginia, only days after the Capitol riot in January 2021. The symbol of the turned-over flag has been embraced by election deniers.

Ms Alito told The Washington Post that the flag was “an international signal of distress” and that it had been raised in response to a disagreement in the neighborhood.

When the Alitos were set to move to Washington from New Jersey for Justice Alito to join the top court, their children were heading off to college. Ms Alito said she was pleased with the change after having left her career as a librarian to take up homemaker duties full-time, according to The New York Times.

When Ms Alito has spoken in public, she has often criticized the scrutiny her family faced in the lead-up to and during Justice Alito’s confirmation hearings.

Justice Alito and his wife Martha-Ann stand during a private ceremony for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Supreme Court on 23 September, 2020
Justice Alito and his wife Martha-Ann stand during a private ceremony for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the Supreme Court on 23 September, 2020 (POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

“The two months preceding were the horrible part of our life,” she said as she introduced her husband at an awards ceremony in 2007. “Fortunately, I was not in Washington, so I did not have to read the papers or look at the blogs or look at the computer, and I have continued that standard — I no longer read except when I choose to pick up a book.”

Her father was an air traffic controller in the Air Force, which often moved the family between postings in Texas, Florida, Maine, and Portugal’s Azores islands. Her mother worked as a librarian at the military bases.

She attended the University of Kentucky, earning a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature in 1976 and a master’s in library sciences the following year.

Ms Alito became a librarian at a public library in New Jersey, and later at the US Attorney’s office in Newark and the Department of Justice.

She met Justice Alito in the law library when he served as an assistant US attorney and they married five years later in 1985.

Since coming to Washington, she has mostly worked on apolitical issues and for charities.

Until the flag incidents at her Alexandria home and their New Jersey beach house, Ms Alito drew little attention.

She faced some scrutiny when she and her husband had a meal with a couple who subsequently said that they had been made aware of the decision of a pending case, and when she inherited stocks and mineral interests from her father, which raised some concerns about conflicts of interest for the justice, The Times noted.

More recently, following the flag incident, it was also reported by the paper that a young liberal couple called the police claiming to be harassed by Ms Alito, adding that she had spat at their car amidst an argument that lasted for weeks.

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