Justices Sotomayor, Gorsuch Deny Reported Clash over Mask-Wearing

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Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor issued a joint statement Wednesday denying that Sotomayor had asked Gorsuch to wear a mask, following an NPR report claiming that Gorsuch’s refusal to do so forced Sotomayor to work remotely.

“Reporting that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask surprised us. It is false,” the two justices said in a statement on Wednesday. “While we may sometimes disagree about the law, we are warm colleagues and friends.”

The NPR story stated that Chief Justice John Roberts asked justices to wear masks in light of the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid, because Sotomayor’s diabetes puts her at greater risk for complications from Covid. However, Roberts flatly denied that claim on Wednesday afternoon.

“I did not request Justice Gorsuch or any other Justice to wear a mask on the bench,” Roberts said in a statement.

The NPR report further claimed that Gorsuch’s refusal to wear a mask forced Sotomayor to attend Court hearings remotely.

Citing a source “familiar with the situation,” CNN also reported that Sotomayor decided to work remotely because she did not feel comfortable working in-person with unmasked colleagues including Gorsuch.

Gorsuch, a conservative appointed by President Trump, and Sotomayor, a liberal appointed by President Obama, have collaborated in various dissents issued in cases put before the Court. The two have struck up a friendship across their ideological divide that has been remarked on in the media.

“We’ve already disagreed a lot,” Sotomayor told Bloomberg Law in 2019, but the two agreed to “disagree agreeably.” Sotomayor also described Gorsuch as “a lovely person.”

Gorsuch and Sotomayor appeared jointly in an April 2021 address to the Center for Strategic & International Studies, discussing the need for shared national community and an ability to listen to opposing political arguments.

Partisan debate “can turn into an awful thing, into something that destroys the fabric of our community if we don’t learn to talk to each other,” Sotomayor said in the address.

“It is no surprise that a lot of the false information spread on social media is deliberately spread by our enemies to sow disagreement internally in the country,” Gorsuch said. “If we allow them to destroy our sense of ‘we the people,’ our sense of community, our sense of our shared liberties that we love and treasure, that’s hard to come back from.”

Update 3:30 p.m.: This article was updated with a statement from Chief Justice John Roberts.

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