SCOTUS justices deny report that Gorsuch refused request to mask up

Three Supreme Court justices made it a point Wednesday to deny a recent NPR story claiming that Justice Neil Gorsuch refused to mask up on the bench, despite being asked to do so.

The controversy started when Gorsuch was the only one of eight justices on the bench for in-person oral arguments earlier this month seen not wearing a mask. Sotomayor, who has diabetes — putting her at higher risk for a serious case of COVID-19 — heard oral arguments virtually from her chambers.

Then, NPR reported this week that Chief Justice John Roberts had “in some form asked” all of the justices to wear a mask.

“According to court sources, Sotomayor did not feel safe in close proximity to people who were unmasked. Chief Justice John Roberts, understanding that, in some form asked the other justices to mask up,” NPR reported.

“They all did. Except Gorsuch, who, as it happens, sits next to Sotomayor on the bench. His continued refusal since then has also meant that Sotomayor has not attended the justices’ weekly conference in person, joining instead by telephone,” the outlet added.

But NPR’s account is untrue, according to statements from Sotomayor herself, as well as Gorsuch and Roberts.

“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 and Gorsuch said in a joint statement, according to The Washington Post.

Roberts also said he did not ask any of the justices to mask up.

“I did not request Justice Gorsuch or any other Justice to wear a mask on the bench,” he said in a statement of his own.

But as Reason’s Robby Soave pointed out, “To some extent, the damage was already done.”

“I have to wonder how many people will have seen the initial story, but miss the important clarifying information,” Soave wrote.

“I have to wonder how many others will lose faith in the media over a botched story like this—or have already lost faith, due to the sheer frequency with which poorly and anonymously sourced stories are pushed by the media, and then fall apart days later.”