Neil Gorsuch reportedly defied a request from Chief Justice John Roberts to wear a mask out of respect for Sonia Sotomayor

Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch

Justice Sonia Sotomayor was forced to attend oral arguments remotely because Justice Neil Gorsuch wasn’t wearing a mask.
Chief Justice John Roberts reportedly asked the entire court to mask up on Sotomayor’s behalf.
All of the justices are fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has diabetes and is at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, has been participating in Supreme Court oral arguments remotely from her private chambers after Justice Neil Gorsuch refused to wear a mask, NPR’s Nina Totenberg reported on Tuesday.

Sotomayor has not taken the bench this year amid the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant. The remaining justices have appeared in the courtroom for arguments, with each of them wearing masks, except for Gorsuch.

After the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the nine justices first returned to in-person arguments last fall. At the time, none of the justices wore masks during oral arguments besides Sotomayor, per NPR. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that either type of diabetes could make a person more susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19.

But as infections began to spike recently, Chief Justice John Roberts “in some form” asked the entire court to mask up on behalf of Sotomayor, according to NPR. All of them did, with the exception of Gorsuch.

Based on the court’s tradition, Sotomayor, appointed by then-President Barack Obama in 2009, sits next to Gorsuch, who was appointed by President Donald Trump in 2017. 

Sotomayor does not feel safe around unmasked individuals and has been participating remotely, per NPR. All nine justices are fully vaccinated and have received booster shots against COVID-19.

“[Gorsuch’s] continued refusal since then has also meant that Sotomayor has not attended the justices’ weekly conference in person, joining instead by telephone,” NPR reported. 

A Supreme Court spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Gorsuch’s behalf.

Totenberg, a longtime Supreme Court reporter, also described an institution that’s overflowing with animosity.

The court’s three liberals, including Sotomayor, are increasingly upset with their conservative colleagues, especially over the possibility that Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, could soon be overturned. 

The justices recently split along ideological lines in a 6-3 decision blocking the Biden administration’s mandate that would have required private companies with over 100 employees to get their workers vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested weekly. The court’s conservative majority expressed skepticism of the Biden administration’s power to impose a sweeping mandate on workplaces without direct authorization from Congress. 

The three liberals disagreed, writing in a dissenting opinion: “When we are wise, we know enough to defer on matters like this one. When we are wise, we know not to displace the judgments of experts, acting within the sphere Congress marked out and under Presidential control, to deal with emergency conditions. Today, we are not wise.”

In a separate 5-4 ruling, the court allowed a Biden adminstration mandate requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for healthcare workers at federally funded facilities to take effect. Two of the court’s conservatives, Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh, joined the liberals in the majority.

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Politics, News, Sonia Sotomayor, Neil Gorsuch, Supreme Court, John Roberts, COVID-19, coronavirus, Pandemic, Vaccines, masks

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