Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch and Sonia Sotomayor issued a joint statement Wednesday disputing a recent NPR report as "false" after the liberal media organization claimed the conservative justice refused to wear a mask on the bench despite requests to do so.
"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," Gorsuch and Sotomayor said in a joint statement to the media.
"I did not request Justice Gorsuch or any other Justice to wear a mask on the bench," Chief Justice John Roberts said in a separate statement.
NPR’s story by legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg, "Gorsuch didn't mask despite Sotomayor's COVID worries, leading her to telework," reported Roberts ordered the justices to wear masks because of the omicron surge since Sotomayor has diabetes.
Totenberg couched her language, writing, "Roberts, understanding that, in some form asked the other justices to mask up," suggesting he did it at Sotomayor's behest. Totenberg cited "court sources" to report Sotomayor expressed she "did not feel safe in close proximity to people who were unmasked" before Roberts made the decision.
"They all did. Except Gorsuch, who, as it happens, sits next to Sotomayor on the bench. His continued refusal since then has also meant that Sotomayor has not attended the justices' weekly conference in person, joining instead by telephone," Totenberg wrote. "Gorsuch, from the beginning of his tenure, has proved a prickly justice, not exactly beloved even by his conservative soulmates on the court."
"Totenberg never reported that Justice Sotomayor asked Justice Gorsuch to wear a mask, or did she report that anyone admonished him," an NPR spokesperson said in response to the joint statement by Gorsuch and Sotomayor.
NPR’s report, which was published on Tuesday morning, was addressed on that evening’s edition of "Special Report with Bret Baier," when Fox News chief legal correspondent and "FOX News @ Night" anchor Shannon Bream’s sources shot down the report before the justices called it false themselves.
"I am told that is not accurate," Bream said of NPR’s version of events.
"A source at the Supreme Court says there have been no blanket admonition or request from Chief Justice that the other justices begin wearing masks to arguments," Bream continued. "The source further stated Justice Sotomayor did not make any such request to Justice Gorsuch. I’m told, given that fact, there was also no refusal by Justice Gorsuch."
NPR’s report was picked up by multiple mainstream media outlets.
USA Today published a story headlined, "Report: Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch refuses to wear mask in the courtroom, despite request from Roberts," while CNBC's was titled, "Supreme Court’s Gorsuch refused to wear mask despite request over Sotomayor’s Covid concerns, report says."
Rolling Stone took things further with a report headlined, "Neil Gorsuch Stands Up for His Right to Endanger Sonia Sotomayor’s Health," which declared "the liberal Supreme Court justice is diabetic and didn’t want to sit next to justices who weren’t wearing masks. Her conservative colleague didn’t care."
CNN’s version was headlined, "Gorsuch declines to wear mask, as bench-mate Sotomayor works from her office," and Newsweek focused on backlash with, "Justice Neil Gorsuch Slammed for Not Wearing Mask, Endangering Diabetic Sonia Sotomayor."
Fox News’ Shannon Bream contributed to this report.