Supreme Court justices deny ‘false’ story on supposed mask in-fighting
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch have taken the rare step of issuing a joint statement in defense of cordial relations on the US Supreme Court, refuting media reports of a Covid-19 mask argument at the Marble Palace.
The controversy began on Tuesday, when US state-funded media outlet NPR said that Gorsuch had refused an order by Chief Justice John Roberts to wear a mask. The order reportedly stemmed from the health concerns of Sotomayor, who is diabetic and therefore at high risk of severe illness or death from Covid-19. As a result, the story alleged, Sotomayor had to participate in hearings and weekly conferences remotely when the high court took the bench earlier this month for the first time since the Omicron variant caused a surge in new Covid-19 infections.
Other media outlets, such as Newsweek and CNN, piled on, posting articles citing NPR and alleging that Gorsuch refused to comply with a mask order. Rolling Stone sharpened the tone of the narrative, saying that the conservative judge Gorsuch was standing up for his right to “endanger” his left-wing colleague Sotomayor and that he “didn’t care” about her health concerns.
The problem is, according to the justices involved, the articles weren’t actually true. “Reporting that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask surprised us,” the judges said on Wednesday. “It is false. While we may sometimes disagree about the law, we are warm colleagues and friends.”
NEW: A statement from Justices Sotomayor and 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."— Adam Liptak (@adamliptak) January 19, 2022
Prior to Sotomayor and Gorsuch issuing their joint statement, Fox News reported that Roberts hadn’t told justices to wear masks and that Gorsuch hadn’t refused any order. Nor did Sotomayor ask Gorsuch to wear a mask.
NPR’s assertions were attributed to anonymous “court sources.” Without citing anyone – not even unidentified sources – the outlet added that Gorsuch “has proved a prickly justice, not exactly beloved even by his conservative soulmates on the court.”
NPR has reportedly struggled to meet a target set in 2018 for reducing the number of corrections needed. Last April, it corrected a story after a senior editor falsely claimed that US intelligence agencies had “discredited” bombshell reporting on the contents of a laptop that President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, left at a Delaware repair shop. Earlier this month, the outlet corrected an article that falsely stated police officers died from injuries suffered in last year’s US Capitol riot.
As of Wednesday afternoon, NPR hadn’t corrected its article on mask-wearing at the Supreme Court.