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Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor have issued a joint statement pushing back on a report by NPR’s Nina Totenberg claiming a rift between the two Sotomayor’s alleged refusal to wear a mask while in chambers, causing the latter to attend hearings remotely.
According to NPR’s Nina Totenberg on Tuesday:
It was pretty jarring earlier this month when the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court took the bench for the first time since the omicron surge over the holidays. All were now wearing masks. All, that is, except Justice Neil Gorsuch. What’s more, Justice Sonia Sotomayor was not there at all, choosing instead to participate through a microphone set up in her chambers.
Sotomayor has diabetes, a condition that puts her at high risk for serious illness, or even death, from COVID-19. She has been the only justice to wear a mask on the bench since last fall when, amid a marked decline in COVID-19 cases, the justices resumed in-person arguments for the first time since the onset of the pandemic.
Now, though, the situation had changed with the omicron surge, and according to court sources, Sotomayor did not feel safe in close proximity to people who were unmasked. Chief Justice John Roberts, understanding that in some form asked the other justices to mask up.
They all did. Except for Gorsuch, who, as it happens, sits next to Sotomayor on the bench. His continued refusal since then has also meant that Sotomayor has not attended the justices’ weekly conference in person, joining instead by telephone.
“[Gorsuch’s] continued refusal since then has also meant that Sotomayor has not attended the justices’ weekly conference in person, joining instead by telephone,” Totenberg, who has long covered the high court for the taxpayer-supported media outlet, added.
But that’s not so, according to Gorsuch and Sotomayor.
“Reporting that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask surprised us,” the statement said. “It is false.
“While we may sometimes disagree about the law, we are warm colleagues and friends,” the statement added.
JUST IN. SCOTUS releases a short joint statement from Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch:
“Reporting that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask surprised us. It is false. While we may sometimes disagree about the law, we are warm colleagues and friends.”
— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) January 19, 2022
The joint statement from the two Supreme Court colleagues came on the heels of a report by Fox News noting that Totenberg’s report was untrue.
Speaking to Bret Baier, host and correspondent Shannon Bream noted that the NPR report said Sotomayor “did not feel safe in close proximity to people who were unmasked.”
“It then says that Justice Gorsuch who normally sits right next to Sotomayor on the bench has repeatedly refused to do so and that’s forced Justice Sotomayor to operate remotely from her office for arguments and conferences,” Bream continued.
“I am told that is not accurate,” the Fox News host noted further.
“A source at the Supreme Court says there has been no blanket admonition or request from Chief Justice Roberts that the other Justices begin wearing masks to arguments,” she explained. “The source further stated Justice Sotomayor did not make any such request to Justice Gorsuch. I’m told, given that fact, there was also no refusal by Justice Gorsuch.”
“The Justices are all vaccinated and boosted and they do test before taking the bench for arguments,” Bream noted.
“A source at the Supreme Court says there has been no blanket admonition or request from Chief Justice Roberts that the other Justices begin wearing masks to arguments.” pic.twitter.com/petcj6q1nK
— 🇺🇸 Mike Davis 🇺🇸 (@mrddmia) January 19, 2022