Supreme Court justices deny any friction over masks in the courtroom

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Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor denied Wednesday that there have been tensions between them over the issue of wearing masks while seated on the courtroom bench during oral arguments.

"Reporting that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask surprised us," they said in a rare joint statement. "It is false. While we may sometimes disagree about the law, we are warm colleagues and friends."

Since the court resumed oral arguments this month after the holiday break, Gorsuch has not worn a mask in the courtroom. Sotomayor has been absent from the bench and has instead participated through an audio hookup to her chambers in the court building.

The court has declined to explain why Sotomayor has participated remotely. She has been diabetic since she was a child, which puts her at higher risk for infection with the coronavirus. She and Gorsuch usually sit next to each other behind the bench.

The court has also declined to answer questions about why Gorsuch does not wear a mask in the courtroom.

Wednesday’s statement appeared to be a response to a National Public Radio report that said "Sotomayor did not feel safe in close proximity to people who were unmasked." It added, "Chief Justice John Roberts, understanding that, in some form or other asked the other justices to mask up."

Roberts on Wednesday denied asking his colleagues to wear masks during oral arguments.

"I did not request Justice Gorsuch or any other justice to wear a mask on the bench," he said in a statement released by the court.

Several justices remove their masks when they are asking questions, and Justice Samuel Alito frequently leaves his off for extended periods.

The court has said all the justices have received Covid vaccinations and booster shots.

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