U.S. Supreme Court

Gorsuch is the only SCOTUS justice who isn't wearing a mask on the bench; did he refuse Roberts' request?

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Updated: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch’s refusal to wear a mask during recent oral arguments is spurring criticism and one report saying his maskless presence defied a request by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

Roberts released a statement Wednesday, however, that denied that he made any such request, Law.com reports.

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

The statement refutes an NPR report that said Roberts “in some form asked the other justices to mask up” amid the surge in the omicron variant. Gorsuch sits next to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has diabetes and was the only justice who wore a mask before the holidays.

The article did not further explain the form of the chief justice’s request, the Volokh Conspiracy points out.

Since the high court’s return, Sotomayor has been participating via telephone. According to NPR, which relied on anonymous sources, Sotomayor did not feel safe being close to unmasked people, and that was the reason that Roberts wanted justices to wear masks.

Sotomayor and Gorsuch issued a statement Wednesday addressing another question: whether Sotomayor asked Gorsuch to wear a mask, according to a tweet by Supreme Court journalist Adam Liptak of the New York Times. She did not.

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

It is unclear which publication reported that Sotomayor asked Gorsuch to wear a mask.

The NPR story, by Supreme Court journalist Nina Totenberg, described Gorsuch as “a prickly justice, not exactly beloved even by his conservative soulmates on the court.”

Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor and an opinion columnist for the Washington Post, pointed out that five justices, including Sotomayor, are older than age 65.

“Wearing a mask is the decent thing to do—especially when you are around vulnerable individuals,” she wrote.

The court’s public information office did not respond to the Washington Post’s questions about Gorsuch’s lack of a mask and whether it had something to do with Sotomayor’s decision to participate remotely.

Fox News anchor Shannon Bream said Tuesday evening she has been told that the NPR story is not accurate, Fox News reported.

“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 said.

Mike Davis, a former law clerk for Gorsuch, tweeted that the chief justice never asked his colleagues to mask up for any reason.

“Fact-check: 100% false,” he tweeted.

In another tweet, Davis said Gorsuch “is vaccinated and boosted, like all justices.” Gorsuch also tests for COVID-19 before all arguments, as do the lawyers, and the Supreme Court has upgraded its air filtration system, he said.

Updated Jan. 19 at 4:12 p.m. to include statement from Roberts.

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