Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito delivered a politically-charged speech to a conference of conservative lawyers. YouTube

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito expressed concern about religious liberty with regard to same-sex marriage and COVID-19 restrictions during a speech on Thursday.

“You can’t say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman,” Alito said. “Until very recently that’s what a vast majority of Americans thought. Now it’s considered bigotry.”

Alito was heavily criticized by Democratic lawmakers and legal experts over the politically-charged nature of his remarks, which were delivered to a group of conservative lawyers.

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Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito gave a politically-charged speech on Thursday night in which he suggested that religious liberty is under threat by same-sex marriage and COVID-19 restrictions. 

Conservatives have a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court, but Alito’s remarks implied that they’re a marginalized group. 

“It pains me to say this,” Alito said while addressing a virtual conference of conservative lawyers (the Federalist Society), “but in certain quarters, religious liberty is fast becoming a disfavored right.”

Alito, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by Republican President George W. Bush, said the “question” the US faces is “whether our society will be inclusive enough to tolerate people with unpopular religious beliefs.”

The conservative justice said the COVID-19 pandemic had led to “previously unimaginable” restrictions on individual liberty. He pointed explicitly to impositions on religious services. 

“Think of worship services! Churches closed on Easter Sunday, synagogues closed for Passover in Yom Kippur,” Alito said.

The Supreme Court justice said he was not diminishing the severity of the threat of the virus to the public, and was not commenting on the legality of the restrictions imposed. 

“We have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive and prolonged as those experienced for most of 2020,” Alito added. He said the COVID-19 pandemic has served as a “constitutional stress test.”  

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Alito also suggested that freedom of expression is under threat with regard to same-sex marriage. Freedom of speech is “falling out of favor,” he said. 

“You can’t say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman,” he said. “Until very recently that’s what a vast majority of Americans thought. Now it’s considered bigotry.”

The conservative justice argued that the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, opened the door for discrimination against those with a traditional view of marriage. “I could see where the decision would lead,” Alito said, echoing his past criticism of the 2015 same-sex marriage decision. 


Alito garnered praise among conservatives for his remarks, which were tweeted out by President Donald Trump. But Democratic lawmakers and legal experts excoriated Alito over his comments, as Supreme Court justices are meant to be impartial and avoid appearing too political. 

“Supreme Court Justices aren’t supposed to be political hacks. This right-wing speech is nakedly partisan,” Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said in a tweet. 

Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said Alito had outed himself as a “full-on partisan crusader.”

“I’m not surprised that Justice Alito believes any of those things. One need only read his written opinions to see most of them. I’m surprised that he decided to *say* them in a public speech that was livestreamed over the internet—clips of which will now be recirculated forever,” Steve Vladeck, a University of Texas law professor, tweeted.

Watch Alito’s full remarks below:

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