Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito has come under fire from congressional Democrats after he gave an unusually charged address Thursday evening, hitting conservative talking points he believes have become unpalatable in the political climate.
“For many today, religious liberty is not a cherished freedom. It’s often just an excuse for bigotry and can’t be tolerated, even when there is no evidence that anybody has been harmed,” Alito said during a virtual event with the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention, a conservative legal network. “The question we face is whether our society will be inclusive enough to tolerate people with unpopular religious beliefs.”
Alito’s question was immediately answered by Democrats who took issue with his argument that the landmark Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage has actually fueled religious intolerance.
“Homophobic rhetoric isn’t a matter of free speech. It’s a matter of hate speech,” Rep. Jimmy Gomez, D-Calif., said on Twitter Friday. “These are stunning, harmful words from Justice Alito.”
Gomez also pointed to another Supreme Court case that reaffirmed the right to same-sex marriage. In the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case, which found that the right to marry is guaranteed under the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren took to Twitter to express her disapproval of Alito’s comments.
“Supreme Court Justices aren't supposed to be political hacks,” Warren said. “This right-wing speech is nakedly partisan,” she added.
While Supreme Court justices do issue opinions, it is rare for a justice to do so during an event, but Alito also used his 30-minute speech to address what he believes is an attack on conservative values.
"One of the great challenges for the Supreme Court going forward will be to protect freedom of speech,” Alito said. “Although that freedom is falling out of favor in some circles, we need to do whatever we can to prevent it from becoming a second-tier constitutional right.”
He also drew a line in the sand against criticisms from congressional Democrats on the Supreme Court, though he did not address the recent calls to expand the high court after the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
“Let’s go back to some basics: the Supreme Court was created by the Constitution, not by Congress, and under the Constitution we exercise the judicial power of the United States,” he said according to the Wall Street Journal. “Congress has no right to interfere with that work anymore than we have the right to legislate.”
Brie Stimson contributed to this report.