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Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch stands during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on April 23, 2021.

Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch stands during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on April 23, 2021. (Photo: Erin Schaff/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Gorsuch Chooses to Go Maskless While Backing Forced Pregnancy for Women in Texas

"I feel like we're entitled to expect our Supreme Court justices to be better role models. Or, at least, to have an ounce of decency," said one observer.

Andrea Germanos

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch's reported refusal to wear a mask at in-person proceedings—while his colleague and liberal justice Sonia Sotomayor attended remotely due to health concerns—sparked backlash Tuesday, especially in the context of the Court's current attack on women's reproductive health.

According to reporting Tuesady by NPR, citing "court sources," the refusal by Gorsuch—who was appointed by former President Donald Trump and sits next to Sotomayor on the bench—came despite Chief Justice John Roberts having asked the justices to wear masks in light of the specific vulnerability of Sotomayor, who has diabetes, to Covid-19. On Wednedsay, Gorsuch and Sotomayor issued a rate joint statement in which they said the reporting was inaccurate.

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

The CDC says having diabetes can make a person more likely to get severely ill from Covid-19, and Sotomayor has been wearing a mask at in-person proceedings since last fall.

Amid the surge in Omicron cases, according to NPR, "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."

The reporting provoked widespread rebuke of Gorsuch.

"That Justice Sotomayor is choosing to participate in #SCOTUS arguments remotely because Justice Gorsuch (and *only* Justice Gorsuch) refuses to wear a mask on the bench is such a perfect microcosm of how millions of Americans are experiencing the pandemic—from both perspectives," tweeted law professor Steve Vladeck.

"Personally," said former U.S. attorney Joyce Vance in response to the reporting, "I feel like we're entitled to expect our Supreme Court justices to be better role models. Or, at least, to have an ounce of decency. Putting on a mask would have cost Gorsuch nothing, but then he didn’t care about risk to front line workers, either."

Journalist Sarah Burris tied Gorsuch's mask refusal to his anti-choice record.

"So Gorsuch was miffed he felt like he was being 'forced' to wear a mask... but he's about to say women should be forced to carry a dangerous pregnancy to term," she tweeted.

Currently, reproductive health experts and pro-choice advocates are furious with the right-wing majority of Justices on the court who have refused to halt a state law in Texas that bars abortions after just 6 weeks of pregnancy.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said last month it was "outrageous" for the court to "not to block Texas' unconstitutional abortion ban." The people of Texas, she said, "are harmed every day this law is allowed to stand."

The reporting about Gorsuch's refusal to mask, though now in doubt given the joint statement from he and Sotomayor, comes just days after the Supreme Court's right-wing majority struck down the Biden administration's vaccine-or-test mandate for large private employers.

Correction/Update: This article has been updated from its original to account for the new statement from Sotomayor and Gorsuch issued on Wednesday, January 19.

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