During the Supreme Court's oral arguments on the Biden administration's vaccine or test mandate in certain workplaces earlier this month some court observers noted every justice was masked – except one: Neil Gorsuch. They also noticed that Justice Sonia Sotomayor was participating from her chambers via telephone, while her co-workers were seated as usual on the bench.
"Sotomayor has diabetes, a condition that puts her at high risk for serious illness, or even death, from COVID-19," NPR reported Tuesday. "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."
"They all did," NPR's Nina Totemberg noted. "Except Gorsuch, who, as it happens, sits next to Sotomayor on the bench."
Public outcry was swift, and it includes legal experts:
"As a member of the Supreme Ct bar, I condemn in the strongest terms possible Justice Gorsuch refusing to wear a mask to protect his high risk colleague, Justice Sotomayor, from being killed by Covid," wrote Richard Signorelli, a civil and criminal litigation attorney and former Asst. U.S. Attorney. "Shame on him."
Constitutional law scholar and Harvard University Professor Emeritus Laurence Tribe, who has argued before the Supreme Court 36 times, called Justice Gorsuch a "jerk."
"Gorsuch’s refusal to mask up on the bench even when asked by the Chief Justice to do so in order that the diabetic and hence immunocompromised Justice Sotomayor could attend in person shows just what kind of jerk Gorsuch is," Tribe tweeted. He added he wished Gorsuch were not an alumnus of Harvard Law.
"Personally, I feel like we’re entitled to expect our Supreme Court justices to be better role models," wrote former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, now a well-known MSNBC and NBC News legal analyst and law professor. "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," she noted subtly, after the conservative Court voted 6-3 to block OSHA's vaccine or test mandate.
USA Today columnist Connie Schultz quoted Dahlia Lithwick, an attorney and author of "Supreme Court Dispatches" and "Jurisprudence," from Lithwick's Slate column:
“The real problem with the court’s masks-optional policy? It reflects the court’s much larger rules-optional policy on everything pertaining to judicial conduct.” - @Dahlialithwick https://t.co/B8mZKymjaP
— Connie Schultz (@ConnieSchultz) January 18, 2022
"Gorsuch should be the one who is forced to isolate, not Sotomayor," notes NBC News and MSNBC Legal Contributor Katie S. Phang.
Legal journalist Cristian Farias, a former New York Times editorial writer last week commented on Gorsuch and his refusal to wear a mask:
A couple of years ago, Neil Gorsuch wrote a whole book lamenting the loss of civility in public life. In it, he quotes a rule George Washington is said to have learned as a child: “Bedew no man’s face with your spittle, by approaching too near him when you speak.” Kid you not. https://t.co/Aicgtcolh5
— Cristian Farias (@cristianafarias) January 11, 2022