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Justices of the US Supreme Court pose for their official photo at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC on November 30, 2018.

Mandel Ngan | AFP | fake images

Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch denied on Wednesday that their relationship has been frayed by a disagreement over wearing masks as a Covid-19 safety measure during in-person court proceedings.

The rare joint statement by the two sitting judges came a day after an NPR report said Gorsuch refused to wear a mask, despite a request from Chief Justice John Roberts that all nine members of the court do so.

The statement did not address the key question of whether Roberts had asked the judges to wear masks. He denied that Sotomayor herself had asked Gorsuch to wear a mask, which is not what NPR reported.

An NPR spokesperson told CNBC that the outlet stands behind her story, noting that veteran Supreme Court reporter Nina Totenberg “never reported that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask, nor did she report that someone admonished him.” .

“The statement issued by Justices Sotomayor and Gorsuch does not contradict the Totenberg article report,” NPR said.

A Supreme Court spokesman, who shared the statement with CNBC, did not immediately respond to a question about the apparent discrepancy between the NPR reports and Gorsuch and Sotomayor’s statement.

Read more about CNBC’s political coverage:

Gorsuch’s refusal to wear a mask during oral arguments and reportedly also during weekly judges’ conferences led Sotomayor to participate in those events remotely, according to Totenberg.

Roberts had “somehow” asked the other judges to wear masks after Sotomayor, who has diabetes and is therefore in a increased risk of severe illness from Covid — felt unsafe sitting next to people without a mask amid the rise of the highly transmissible omicron variant, NPR reported, citing court sources.

Wednesday’s statement from Gorsuch and Sotomayor does not mention Roberts. Rather, it says the two judges were “shocked” to “report that Judge Sotomayor asked Judge Gorsuch to wear a mask.”

“It is false,” the two magistrates said in the statement, before reaffirming their cordial working relationship. “While we may sometimes disagree on the law, we are warm colleagues and friends,” they said.

All nine judges are vaccinated against Covid and all have received booster shots.


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