The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a statement denying that Justice Sonia Sotomayor had demanded that Justice Neil Gorsuch wear a mask during oral arguments.
Media reports said Sotomayor remained remote during oral arguments because Gorsuch had decided to go maskless on the bench while the country experiences a spike in COVID-19 cases largely due to the omicron variant.
“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 tweeted.
Rebuking media reports is something rare for the Supreme Court.
NPR reported Tuesday that “according to court sources, Sotomayor did not feel safe in close proximity to people who were unmasked.”
Sotomayor, 67, has diabetes. She was the only justice to wear a mask when the Supreme Court returned to in-person oral arguments last fall.
However, when the high court returned in January, only Gorsuch, 54, remained maskless.
Sotomayor and Gorsuch sit next to each other on the bench.
CNN reported that Sotomayor also has been participating in the justices-only conference sessions remotely, a court spokeswoman confirmed. Only the nine judges are allowed in the sessions.
All of the justices have been fully vaccinated, received booster shots, and are frequently tested, CNN said.
Lawyers arguing before the court and media members covering the proceedings are required to wear masks.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday denied an emergency request asking for a pause to the federal COVID-19 airline mask mandate.
That came after the court recently ruled against President Joe Biden's vaccine mandate on private employers but kept in place a mandate for healthcare workers.
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