WASHINGTON — In an unusual joint statement on Wednesday, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil M. Gorsuch sought to rebut reports that Justice Gorsuch’s refusal to wear a mask at Supreme Court arguments has created tensions between them.
“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.”
Justice Gorsuch was the only one who wore a mask in courtroom since the justices returned from their holiday break. Justice Sotomayor, who is diabetic and was the first member of court to wear a mask in October’s return to court, began to participate remotely in arguments from her chambers. Justice Sotomayor is seated next to Justice Gorsuch.
The justices’ statement appeared to be carefully worded and seemed to be primarily directed at a report by Nina Totenberg of NPR on Tuesday attributed to “court sources.” In it, Ms. Totenberg said that Justice 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,” the report said.
The justices’ statement did not appear to contradict those assertions. It did not say, for instance, whether Justice Sotomayor’s absence from the courtroom was a consequence of Justice Gorsuch’s decision not to wear a mask. It did not mention whether Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. had asked his colleagues to wear masks.
Later on Tuesday, Shannon Bream, a reporter with Fox News, said, “A source at the Supreme Court says there have been no blanket admonition or request from Chief Justice Roberts that the other justices begin wearing masks to arguments.”
“The source further stated Justice Sotomayor did not make any such request to Justice Gorsuch,” Ms. Bream continued. “I’m told, given that fact, there was also no refusal by Justice Gorsuch.”
The justices’ statement was consistent with that account.
According to a court spokesperson, all the justices are up-to-date on their vaccinations and have had a booster shot.
Source: NY Times