Sotomayor, Gorsuch correct mainstream media narrative, deny tensions over mask use

Several prominent outlets had reported that Justice Sotomayor had asked her conservative colleague to wear a mask during surging COVID-19 cases

Updated: January 19, 2022 - 2:14pm

Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch corrected the record Wednesday when they issued a joint statement denying tensions on the bench over the usage of COVID-19 masks.

Earlier this week, NPR reported that Sotomayor had become uncomfortable with Gorsuch's refusal to wear a mask during oral arguments, prompting Sotomayor, who has type 1 diabetes and is therefore at heightened risk for COVID, to participate remotely beginning this month.

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

The outlet also reported that Chief Justice John Roberts had asked his colleagues to wear masks, and that Gorsuch declined. 

The outlet issued a statement Wednesday defending its reporting and the reporter, Nina Totenberg, who made the initial claim.

"Totenberg never reported that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask, nor did she report that anyone admonished him," said NPR spokesman Ben Fishel, according to The Hill newspaper.

It is rare for any justice to issue a statement on media reports and commentary pertaining to the high court. 

Each of the nine justices is vaccinated against COVID and have received booster shots.