Associate Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor put out a joint statement on Wednesday denying a recent report that Gorsuch refused to wear a mask during oral arguments, forcing Sotomayor to participate in proceedings remotely.
National Public Radio legal correspondent Nina Totenberg claimed in a Tuesday column that Gorsuch refused a request from Chief Justice John Roberts that all justices wear masks during oral arguments as a result of Sotomayor’s fears about the Omicron variant. Sotomayor, who has diabetes, “has not attended the justices’ weekly conference in person, joining instead by telephone” as a result of Gorsuch’s refusal, Totenberg wrote.
“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,” the two justices said.
JUST IN. SCOTUS releases a short joint statement from Sonia Sotomayor and Neil 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.”
— SCOTUSblog (@SCOTUSblog) January 19, 2022
Their comment confirms part of a Fox News report from legal correspondent Shannon Bream, who said Tuesday that Roberts did not issue a request that the justices wear masks, and that Sotomayor did not ask Gorsuch to wear one.
“Given that fact, there was also no refusal by Justice Gorsuch,” Bream explained, while noting that all justices have received COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots.
Roberts also pushed back on the report in a Wednesday statement.
“I did not request Justice Gorsuch or any other Justice to wear a mask on the bench,” he said.
When reached for comment, an NPR spokesman said that the organization is standing by Totenberg’s report.
“Totenberg never reported that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask, nor did she report that anyone admonished him. She did report that Chief Justice Roberts; ‘in some form asked the other justices to mask up’—and Gorsuch was the only one who did not. The statement released by Justices Sotomayor and Gorsuch does not contradict the reporting in Mrs. Totenberg’s piece,” the spokesman said.
The NPR report is the second time in recent weeks that Gorsuch has faced scrutiny for his alleged handling and understanding of COVID-19. During oral arguments for the cases National Federation of Independent Businesses v. Department of Labor and Ohio v. Department of Labor, Gorsuch noted that the flu “kills hundreds, thousands of people every year,” but that the federal government does not issue workplace vaccine mandates. (RELATED: Biden Calls On Private Businesses To ‘Immediately’ Implement Vaccine Requirements After Supreme Court Blocks Mandate)
However, after the Supreme Court issued a mistaken transcript, several liberal media outlets accused Gorsuch of saying that the flu kills “hundreds of thousands.” The Court ultimately issued a correction.
This article has been updated to include Chief Justice John Roberts’ statement.