Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is remaining remote during oral arguments because Justice Neil Gorsuch has decided to remain maskless on the bench, according to reports.
Sotomayor, 67, who has diabetes, was the only justice to wear a mask when the Supreme Court returned to in-person oral arguments last fall, but when they returned in January amid the omicron surge, only Gorsuch, 54, remained maskless, the Daily Mail reported.
Staying remote, Sotomayor listened and spoke over the phone because Gorsuch, who sits next to her on the bench, "refuses to wear a mask."
Chief Justice John Roberts had urged members of the nine-person court to mask up upon the January return, a request only Gorsuch did not take, NPR reported.
Gorsuch has not made a public comment on eschewing a mask at Roberts' request, but a law clerk for Gorsuch tweeted a response to a tweet about Gorsuch's decision to decline to wear a mask.
"Every justice is vaccinated and boosted," Gorsuch clerk Mike Davis tweeted. "Don't vaccines work? We know cloth masks don't."
N95 masks in the Supreme Court chambers are required of reporters and lawyers, along with a negative test, according to reports.
Sotomayor, appointed in 2009 by President Barack Obama, is one of three liberal justices on the bench. Gorsuch was appointed in 2017 by President Donald Trump and is one of five conservatives on the bench. Roberts is a moderate, having sided with the liberal justices in a number of rulings after being appointed by President George W. Bush, a Republican, in 2005.
Sotomayor's remarks during oral arguments on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration-led vaccine mandate have been fact-checked.
"Omicron is as deadly as delta and causes as much serious disease in the unvaccinated as delta did," Sotomayor said remotely. "The numbers — look at the hospitalization rates going up. We have more infected people today than we did a year ago in January. We have hospitals that are almost at full capacity with people severely ill on ventilators.
''We have over 100,000 children, which we've never had before, in serious condition, and many on ventilators."
Sotomayor was one of the justices ruling in favor of President Joe Biden's vaccine mandates, while Roberts sided with the five conservative justices in issuing a stay on the mandate, kicking it back to the lower courts.
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