How to Understand the Supreme Court’s Masking Kerfuffle

Last week, NPR published a story headlined, “Gorsuch didn’t mask despite Sotomayor’s COVID worries, leading her to telework.” Nina Totenberg, undoubtedly the most well-known of all the Supreme Court reporters, reported from “court sources” that Chief Justice John Roberts had “in some form asked the other justices to mask up” because Justice Sonia Sotomayor “did not feel safe in close proximity to people who were unmasked” because of her diabetes. As Totenberg told it:

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. 

This led to an outcry against Justice Neil Gorsuch—who has frequently spoken out on the importance of civility—for his callousness. After all, only a monster would refuse to wear a mask even if doing so jeopardized his colleague’s health and blocked her from the bench.

But then something very unusual happened. 

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