The Supreme Court’s Covid mask controversy is missing points

When the Supreme Court’s term opens on October 4, Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only member of the court to wear a mask during arguments, no doubt because her type 1 diabetes puts her at greater risk of Covid-19. That changed dramatically earlier this month, when every justice on the bench wore a mask – with Justice Neil Gorsuch’s exception.

It’s nice to know that Gorsuch and Sotomayor are still warm colleagues and friends. But let’s say: Friends don’t let friends risk catching Covid.

Sotomayor’s seat, right next to Gorsuch, was empty in January. Instead, she participated in the hearings remotely from her rooms, which raised immediate questions. To be Sotomayor stay away from Gorsuch to protect yourself from possible Covid exposure? And if so, why doesn’t he care more about the well-being of his colleagues?

Court summon again for the first argument of the year on 11 January after the super-transmissive omicron variation began to wreak havoc; that week World Health Organization called the omicron case “off the charts.” Gorsuch remained unmasked, while Sotomayor and Justice Stephen Breyer called from their rooms. (Breyer stays away because he recently received a Covid test that turned out to be a false positive.)

The arrangement became a national controversy after National Public Radio reported that Sotomayor “Doesn’t feel safe around people who are unmasked,” and is thus participating in the Court’s weekly meetings by phone, as well as staying away from oral arguments.

The NPR story added that Chief Justice John Roberts sympathized with Sotomayor’s concerns and “in some way” asked the other judges to “cover their faces”. It was a severe shock to the court’s carefully honed collective image, making Gorsuch’s refusal not only appear callous to Sotomayor but also protest against the chief. .

Judges rarely respond directly to media reports. But this time, Sotomayor and Gorsuch quickly released a joint statement denying the NPR story. “The report that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to put on a mask…is untrue,” they said, adding, “we are passionate colleagues and friends.” Roberts soon released his own statement, explaining that he “didn’t ask Justice Gorsuch or any other Justice to wear a mask on the bench.” NPR’s publicity editor then suggested a clarify, said that the story shouldn’t have reported that Roberts “asked” people to wear masks but rather that he made suggestions along those lines.

That might have stuck Gorsuch for refusing a direct request, but it didn’t explain his insistence on going bare-faced when everyone around was covering their faces. In fact, the focus on whether Gorsuch was required to wear a face covering missed one point: He shouldn’t have been asked in the first place.

No one likes to wear masks, whether it’s doctors or grocery store clerks, but we wear them out of our commitment to a greater good. When a Supreme Court judge couldn’t make this small sacrifice for the health of his immunocompromised colleague, it underscores that the high court’s standard of satisfaction may have dropped. how low, no matter how real Gorsuch and Sotomayor still exist.

Elsewhere, the Supreme Court takes Covid precautions seriously. After hearing cases remotely during their entire previous term, the judges cautiously returned to face-to-face arguments last fall. The building remains closed to visitors and The lawyer appeared before the court were given very specific instructions to wear “N95 or KN95 respirators in the Courtroom, except when presenting an argument,” with approved masks provided in the attorney’s lounge.

Care for co-workers should be gracious, voluntary, and uninhibited. The Code of Conduct for US Judges said as much, calling on the judges to be “respectful and polite” to everyone “with whom the judge deals in an official capacity,” including other judges. What could be more discreet than intentionally annoying a coworker to the point that she leaves the room? Although the high court has not officially approved the law, but the judges have said they comply with it.

Sotomayor’s life as a diabetic was not easy. She was first diagnosed at age 7, when she learned to inject herself with insulin by practicing on an orange. She’s never been known to complain about her health challenges, so it’s understandable if she chose to annoy herself by staying in the rooms rather than leaving Gorsuch in place. It was a classy move, made even more classy by her subsequent public statement.

The same cannot be said of Gorsuch. Even if he refutes the science behind the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s endorsement of wearing a mask in an enclosed space, wearing a mask in a courtroom will make it difficult for him. bear a little. He can still slide it down to question the lawyers, as well as some other judges. It was a small imposition for the sake of addressing Sotomayor’s very real health problems.

Gorsuch voted against almost every Covid containment measure brought before his court, including two recently federal vaccine mandate cases. Unlike in court, he still has to obey District of Columbia regulations require masks in all public indoor locations, including stores, theatres, businesses, schools, houses of worship, restaurants, and rideshares. Perhaps it was his small act of protest or personal liberation to appear maskless in a location where he was truly above the law.

It’s nice to know that Gorsuch and Sotomayor are still warm colleagues and friends. But let’s say: Friends don’t let friends risk catching Covid. The Supreme Court’s Covid mask controversy is missing points

Jake Nichol

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