Whether Supreme Court opinions are wise and thoughtful or offensive and even draconian, they are a core part of the justices’ job that gives us greater insight into their ideologies. By contrast, how justices behave (whether on or off the job) reveals the type of person they are. Justice Neil Gorsuch just exemplified this point in a particularly deplorable way.
When the Supreme Court resumed meeting in person a couple of weeks ago, there were two oddities: Gorsuch was the only justice not wearing a mask, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor was working remotely from her chambers. Particularly given the fact they sit next to each other on the bench, Washington Post reporter Ruth Marcus inquired whether these oddities were related, but a spokesperson offered no response.
New reporting by NPR’s Nina Totenberg on Tuesday morning revealed that Gorsuch’s refusal to wear a mask was, in fact, the reason why Sotomayor participated remotely. As the pandemic was easing in the fall, the justices began meeting in person, with Sotomayor choosing to wear a mask because she was concerned about the risk of serious illness on account of her diabetes. With the new Omicron surge, however, Chief Justice John Roberts asked “in some form” that all justices wear a mask.
All the justices complied with Roberts’ request except for Gorsuch. As NPR’s reporting circulated, the story took a bizarre turn. On Wednesday, Gorsuch and Sotomayor issued a misleading joint statement: “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.”
This is odd because NPR’s reporting only claimed Roberts—not Sotomayor—made the request. After that confusion came to light, Roberts a few hours later issued a statement claiming he did not make any such requests. Roberts’ statement, in turn, prompted Totenberg late Wednesday to emphasize that her reporting was that Roberts’ request was made “in some form” and that NPR stands by it.
At the least, the fact remains that Gorsuch refused to wear a mask while everyone else on the bench did—except for the one justice who appeared remotely because of his anti-science decision. Gorsuch knew (or should have known) that wearing a mask could help protect Sotomayor from illness and enable her to participate in person and feel safe. If Gorsuch and Sotomayor truly are “warm colleagues and friends,” then Gorsuch would now put his mask where his mouth is, so to speak.
As Gorsuch approaches the five-year mark since he was sworn in as the 113th Supreme Court justice, this is not the first time this Republican Senate-confirmed Trump nominee’s actions confirm he is not exactly a good fit for the highest court in the land. Unfortunately, it likely won’t be the last.