Justices Gorsuch and Sotomayor seek to play down mask row – but without addressing accusation

A statement from the two justices fails to address a key claim in a story alleging conflict between them over coronavirus masks

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Wednesday 19 January 2022 18:37 GMT
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Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonya Sotomayor are pushing back on reports of conflict between the justices over Mr Gorsuch’s refusal to wear a mask while on the bench during arguments, but their denial of tensions isn’t fully addressing the controversy.

On Wednesday, the justices issued a statement meant to refute to a National Public Radio article which alleged that Ms Sotomayor, who is diabetic and therefore at high risk for serious illness or death from Covid-19, had been forced to participate in arguments from her chambers because Mr Gorsuch, who sits next to her on the high court’s bench, had refused to wear a mask.

The NPR story at issue also alleged that Ms Sotomayor had been forced to participate in the court’s weekly conferences by phone for the same reason.

“Reporting that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask surprised us. It is false,” said the justices, who said they were “warm colleagues and friends” despite any disagreements about the law.

But the justices’ denial that Ms Sotomayor had asked Mr Gorsuch to cover his face did not address a central point in the NPR story, specifically the allegation that the request for all justices to wear masks because of the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus came from Chief Justice John Roberts — not Ms Sotomayor.

In a statement, an NPR spokesperson said the network stands by their story, which “never reported that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask”.

The Independent has contacted the Supreme Court to ask if the reference to Ms Sotomayor asking Mr Gorsuch to wear a mask was in error.

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