Supreme Court Justices Rebut Reports of Tension Over Masks

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times based in Maryland. He covers U.S. and world news.
January 19, 2022Updated: January 22, 2022

Supreme Court justices have weighed in after reports alleged that the reason Justice Sonia Sotomayor is participating in arguments from her chambers as opposed to sitting with colleagues is because of Justice Neil Gorsuch’s refusal to wear a mask.

“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,” Sotomayor, an Obama appointee, and Gorsuch, a Trump appointee, said in a Jan. 19 joint statement sent to The Epoch Times by a court spokesperson.

One report from NPR alleged that Chief Justice John Roberts, a George W. Bush appointee, had asked the other justice to wear masks because he understood that Sotomayor didn’t feel safe around people who weren’t wearing them, following the surge of the Omicron coronavirus virus variant. The report cited “court sources” for its claim and was authored by Nina Totenberg, who was fired for plagiarism earlier in her career.

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

A report from CNN, citing a single unidentified source, alleged that Sotomayor had gone to her chambers for cases because she was uncomfortable with Gorsuch being unmasked. Sotomayor’s worries stem from having diabetes, which puts her at increased risk of experiencing severe illness if she contracts the virus, according to the reports.

A Supreme Court spokesperson declined to answer follow-up questions over the phone and hasn’t returned emailed questions on the matter, including queries regarding how long Sotomayor has been participating in arguments remotely.

She was listening from her chambers again on Jan. 19, according to Roberts.

Neither NPR nor CNN had updated their stories hours after the justices issued the statements.

“NPR stands behind Nina Totenberg’s reporting,” a spokesman for the outlet told The Epoch Times in an email.

CNN didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.

Epoch Times Photo
Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch delivers remarks after taking the judicial oath during a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House on April 10, 2017. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

All nine justices have received COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots, the court has previously stated.

Still, the vaccines have proven increasingly unable to prevent infection from the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, which causes COVID-19, following the emergence of the Omicron variant, though they’re holding up relatively well against severe disease.

Sotomayor and her two colleagues also nominated by Democratic presidents drew criticism earlier this month when they offered false statements on COVID-19 during arguments for and against two Biden administration COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

“We have over 100,000 children, which we’ve never had before, in serious condition and many on ventilators,” Sotomayor said during the arguments.

However, federal data show that about 3,500 children were hospitalized with COVID-19 at the time, and a significant percentage of the hospitalized patients were actually admitted for other reasons.

Justice Stephen Breyer, a Clinton appointee, falsely said that 750 million new COVID-19 cases were recorded on Jan. 6, while Justice Elena Kagan, an Obama appointee, claimed that “we know that the best way to prevent spread is for people to get vaccinated and to prevent dangerous illness and death is for people to get vaccinated,” even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said even before the emergence of the Omicron variant—which easily bypasses vaccines—that vaccines don’t prevent transmission of the virus.

Matthew Vadum contributed to this report.