Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch reportedly refused to wear a mask when the group gathered to hear arguments earlier this month for the first time since the Omicron surge swept across the United States over the holidays.
NPR’s Nina Totenberg reported that Chief Justice John Roberts “in some form asked the other justices to mask up,” reportedly in response to concerns raised by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has diabetes and is at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 as a result.
Gorsuch’s refusal to wear a mask has forced Sotomayor, who sits next to Gorsuch on the bench, to participate in court proceedings remotely, according to the public radio broadcaster.
Chief Justice John Roberts on Wednesday responded to inquiries about whether he had asked his colleagues to wear masks, saying in statement, “I did not request Justice Gorsuch or any other Justice to wear a mask on the bench.” He said he would have no further comment. His statement came after a similar denial from Gorsuch and Sotomayor.
The Supreme Court held hearings earlier this month to consider the Biden administration’s order mandating that the nation’s large employers require workers to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or to undergo frequent testing. The court ultimately struck down the rule in a 6-3 vote, though it allowed a related measure requiring much of the nation’s health care workforce to be vaccinated to take effect.
Sotomayor listened to arguments over the mandate remotely from her chambers. At least one lawyer who was set to argue against the vaccination mandate tested positive for COVID-19 and had to instead make arguments by telephone.
Sotomayor was the only justice wearing a mask last fall as COVID-19 cases were low and the Supreme Court met in person for the first time since the pandemic began.
Material from Globe wire services was used in this report.