Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.
Jonathan Ernst | Reuters
Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch has refused to wear a mask during in-person proceedings, despite a request from Chief Justice John Roberts for all members of the high court to accommodate Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s concerns about Covid-19, according to a new report Tuesday.
Gorsuch’s continued defiance has led Sotomayor — who has diabetes and is therefore at a higher risk of serious illness from Covid — to attend oral arguments remotely, according to veteran NPR Supreme Court reporter Nina Totenberg, citing court sources.
When the justices returned to the courtroom last fall to hear arguments in person, Sotomayor was the only one to wear a mask. With the surge of the highly transmissible omicron variant in the winter, however, Sotomayor felt unsafe sitting next to unmasked people, according to NPR.
Roberts “in some form” then asked the other justices to wear masks, Totenberg reported. Gorsuch, one of three justices nominated by former President Donald Trump, was the only one to refuse.
The court did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on NPR’s report. All nine justices have been vaccinated and received boosters for Covid.
Gorsuch sits next to Sotomayor on the bench. He has also refused to wear a mask during the justices’ weekly conferences, leading the 67-year-old Sotomayor to attend by telephone.
Last week, Gorsuch was the only justice in the courtroom not to wear a mask during oral arguments, while Sotomayor and Justice Stephen Breyer both appeared remotely. Breyer, at 83 the oldest member of the court, stayed out of the courtroom after a spokesperson said he received the results of a Covid test that was later determined to be a false positive.
Sotomayor, one of three liberals on the nine-seat bench, reportedly participated remotely on Tuesday morning when the court was set to hear oral arguments in two cases.
The first case centered on a dispute over Boston’s denial of a conservative group’s bid to fly a flag bearing a cross outside City Hall.
The second involved a decades-old court battle being waged by the family of a Holocaust survivor attempting to recover a painting by impressionist master Camille Pissarro that had been stolen by the Nazis.