The Supreme Court of the United States has denied a report from NPR that claimed Justice Neil Gorsuch refused to wear a mask while in session after a request from Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
In a joint statement, the justices denied that Gorsuch had refused to wear a mask as a snub to the diabetic justice who has been participating in court proceedings via a microphone in her chambers because of her concerns about contracting COVID-19.
“Reporting that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask surprised us. It is false,” the Jan. 19 statement read. “While we may sometimes disagree about the law, we are warm colleagues and friends.”
NEW: A statement from Justices Sotomayor and 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."
— Adam Liptak (@adamliptak) January 19, 2022
Nina Totenberg, NPR’s legal affairs correspondent, reported that “according to court sources, Sotomayor did not feel safe in close proximity to people who were unmasked” and had taken to remote appearance because she sits next to Gorsuch on the bench. The report said that Chief Justice John Roberts was aware of Sotomayor’s concerns and had asked his fellow justices to wear a mask. Gorsuch had not complied.
“Gorsuch, from the beginning of his tenure, has proved a prickly justice, not exactly beloved even by his conservative soulmates on the court,” Totenberg added.
Following the publication of Totenberg’s report on Jan. 18, the chief legal correspondent for Fox News Shannon Bream said on air that she had been informed by her sources that the report was inaccurate. She said that Roberts has not requested the justices wear masks.
“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,” Bream continued. “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 story was reported by several mainstream media outlets. Rolling Stone’s report was given the headline “Neil Gorsuch Stands Up for His Right to Endanger Sonia Sotomayor’s Health” and claimed Gorsuch did not care about Sotomayor’s health concerns. CNN used “Gorsuch declines to wear mask, as bench-mate Sotomayor works from her office” as the title of its article covering the story.
For its retelling, Newsweek emphasized the criticism Gorsuch received following NPR’s report – using the headline “Justice Neil Gorsuch Slammed for Not Wearing Mask, Endangering Diabetic Sonia Sotomayor.”
Mike Davis, a law clerk for Justice Gorsuch, offered a fact-check from his personal Twitter account.
Fact Check: 100% False.
The Chief never asked his colleagues to mask up, for any reason.
Mark Joseph Stern’s spouse works in the Supreme Court press office.
So he knows — or should know — that he’s spreading misinformation. https://t.co/Dz6tENFUkb
— 🇺🇸 Mike Davis 🇺🇸 (@mrddmia) January 18, 2022
Notably, the Court’s statement does not deny that Sotomayor is teleworking or that Gorsuch is not wearing a mask during in-person proceedings.
All nine justices have been given the COVID-19 vaccination and have received booster shots.