Court Battles

Sotomayor, Gorsuch issue statement denying tensions over masks

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Wednesday issued a joint statement with fellow Justice Neil Gorsuch denying tensions over masks, with Sotomayor saying she did not ask Gorsuch to wear a mask amid surging COVID-19 cases.

Gorsuch, a member of the panel’s conservative bloc, has been the only justice to appear on the bench without a mask for arguments this month, court observers have noted recently.

Sotomayor, 67, who has type 1 diabetes putting her at additional risk from COVID-19, opted to participate in oral arguments remotely starting early this month.

“Reporting that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask surprised us. It is false,” Sotomayor and Gorsuch said in the joint statement shared by the court on Wednesday.

“While we may sometimes disagree about the law, we are warm colleagues and friends,” they added, without identifying what reporting exactly they were referring to.

NPR‘s Nina Totenberg reported Tuesday that Sotomayor was uncomfortable being around individuals who are unmasked and opted to listen to arguments from her chambers.

The outlet reported that Chief Justice John Roberts had asked colleagues to wear a mask, though Gorsuch reportedly declined.

However, Roberts issued a separate statement on Wednesday denying the report.
“I did not request Justice Gorsuch or any other Justice to wear a mask on the bench,” the chief justice said in a statement provided to The Hill.
In response to that statement, NPR said in an email to The Hill that it “stands behind Nina Totenberg’s reporting.”
The NPR report did not say Sotomayor asked Gorsuch to wear a mask, and the outlet issued an initial statement defending its report following Sotomayor and Gorsuch’s joint statement.
“Totenberg never reported that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask, nor did she report that anyone admonished him,” NPR spokesman Ben Fishel said in the statement obtained by The Hill.
CNN, citing a source familiar with the situation, reported that Sotomayor expressed concerns to Roberts but did not directly ask Gorsuch to wear a mask.
In addition to joining oral arguments from her chambers, Sotomayor has participated in justices-only conference sessions remotely, CNN reported, citing a court spokeswoman.
Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, 83, also participated in oral arguments remotely earlier this month “out of an abundance of caution” after having a false positive test, a court spokesperson said at the time.
All the justices on the Supreme Court are vaccinated against COVID-19 and have received booster shots. 
— Updated at 3:39 p.m.
Tags Neil Gorsuch Sonia Sotomayor Stephen Breyer
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