The Supreme Court on Wednesday shot down a report that Justice Sonia Sotomayor was forced to work from home after a colleague on the court refused to wear a mask.
Justice Sotomayor issued a joint statement with Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, the colleague in question, flatly denying the NPR report as “false.”
Then Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. weighed in with his own statement, rebutting the report by NPR’s Nina Totenberg.
“I did not request Justice Gorsuch or any other Justice to wear a mask on the bench,” the chief justice said.
Ms. Totenberg, in a wide-ranging piece about liberal justices’ growing anger at the conservatives on the court, cited “court sources” who told her that Justice Sotomayor, who has diabetes, was worried about sitting on the bench amid the omicron coronavirus surge.
NPR reported that Chief Justice Roberts had “in some form asked the other justices to mask up” to protect her. NPR said all the other justices agreed, but Justice Gorsuch’s “continued refusal” to abide by the request chased Justice Sotomayor from the bench. She’s been participating remotely this month.
Not so, the two justices said: “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 initial NPR report by Ms. Totenberg, a longtime court correspondent, had shot through court-watching circles, with liberal activists taking to television and the internet to decry Justice Gorsuch.
But a former Gorsuch clerk, Mike Davis, warned early on that the story was false.
“Gorsuch and Sotomayor get along very well,” he wrote on Twitter. “Despite her (very loud and clearly wrong) legal views, she’s actually (very) warm, kind, and collegial. These are leftwing activists who are ginning up this conflict.”
Arranged by seniority, the two justices sit next to each other on the dais, and have developed a rapport. During one oral argument several years back, Justice Sotomayor even reached over and pinched Justice Gorsuch to demonstrate a point about a particular use-of-force issue before the court.
“He’s a lovely person,” Justice Sotomayor said in 2019 of her colleague.
Mr. Davis, the former Gorsuch clerk, had been peppering Twitter accounts of journalists who shared the NPR story, telling them they were wrong. On Wednesday he demanded retractions, and called on them to retract their stories and delete their Twitter accounts.
Far from retractions, some court reporters dissected the joint Gorsuch-Sotomayor statement and concluded that it didn’t refute the exact contours of the original NPR report.
Then came the Roberts statement, which did emphatically rebut a key contention in the NPR report.
All nine justices are vaccinated and have received booster shots.
The court had been hearing arguments remotely from the start of the pandemic until October, when the justices returned to the courtroom in person.
At that time, Justice Sotomayor work a mask, but none of the other justices did.
Things changed with omicron, and when the court resumed its cases in January after the holiday break, all justices but Gorsuch have been masked while present, according to those in the courtroom.
Lawyers arguing cases, court staff and the limited number of journalists admitted to the courtroom were also masked. The lawyers took off their masks while actually presenting their cases.
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.