Associate Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch on Wednesday issued a joint statement to dismiss the reports that they were at odds over wearing masks in the Supreme Court. The two said news accounts of the dispute ‘surprised us’ and described them as ‘false’.
An NPR report, citing unnamed sources, said that Sotomayor did not feel safe near people who were not wearing masks. She is a diabetes patient and is at a high risk of illness from the coronavirus.
Sotomayor has been taking part in the arguements remotely.
The report further added that Chief Justice John Roberts had asked the justices to wear masks in the courtroom but Gorsuch has declined to do so.
“While we may sometimes disagree about the law, we are warm colleagues and friends,” Gorsuch and Sotomayor clarified in the statement.
Sotomayor is an appointee of former President Barack Obama while Gorsuch was appointed by former President Donald Trump.
Following NPR’s story, CNN also reported that “a source familiar with the situation” said Sotomayor didn’t “feel comfortable sitting on the bench near colleagues who are not masked.” Neither NPR’s story nor CNN’s story said Sotomayor had directly asked Gorsuch to wear a mask. The justices’ statement did not say what reporting it was referencing.
Since the justices returned to hearing in-person arguments in October, Sotomayor has worn a mask during arguments at the high court while her colleagues have not. They changed their practice this month during the surge of the coronavirus’ omicron variant.
All the justices have been vaccinated against the coronavirus and received a booster shot. Attorneys who argue before the justices also have to have a negative coronavirus test or argue remotely by telephone, and journalists who attend in person are also asked to have a negative test.
So far, three attorneys have had to argue by phone this month because of positive tests. The public is not currently allowed to attend arguments.
With inputs from the Associated Press