January 20, 2022

Earlier this week, NPR’s Nina Totenberg reported that Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has diabetes, did not feel safe at work while sitting so close to people who were unmasked. So, Totenberg reported, Chief Justice John Roberts asked the other justices to wear a mask. And they all did, except Justice Neil Gorsuch. Sotomayor and Gorsuch typically sit next to one another.

Totenberg wrote, “His continued refusal since then has also meant that Sotomayor has not attended the justices’ weekly conference in person, joining instead by telephone.”

On Wednesday, in a rare move, the Supreme Court released a statement from Sotomayor and Gorsuch. It said, “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.”

But the media quickly picked up on the wording of the statement and Totenberg’s story. Totenberg’s story never said Sotomayor made the request, but that Roberts did the asking.

A few hours after the first statement, Roberts put out a statement that said, “I did not request Justice Gorsuch or any other justice to wear a mask on the bench.”

NRP put out a statement standing behind Totenberg’s story. But, on Wednesday, Gorsuch still wasn’t wearing a mask and Sotomayor was still working remotely.

The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake wrote, “The easy way to nip this all in the bud would have been for Sotomayor to address why she has chosen to appear remotely, and for Gorsuch to address his decision not to wear a mask, even as every other justice has worn one. Even if there was no explicit request from Roberts, as he says — NPR’s report is unspecific on what form it took — you’d think Gorsuch would notice his status as the one unmasked justice, and one who no less sits next to Sotomayor, who was once the only masked justice.”

This piece originally appeared in The Poynter Report, our daily newsletter for everyone who cares about the media. Subscribe to The Poynter Report here.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
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