On January 18 NPR’s Nina Totenberg published a story based on “court sources” that all but accused Justice Neil Gorsuch of intentionally refusing to wear a mask during oral arguments even though Chief Justice Roberts had requested all the justices to do so. The story further explained that Justice Sotomayor, who sits next to Justice Gorsuch during oral arguments in the courtroom, suffers from diabetes and chose not to attend the most recent courtroom sessions because of Gorsuch’s refusal to mask up.
The only problem with the story is that the only thing true about it was that Sotomayor does indeed suffer from diabetes. The rest was utterly wrong, according to the people who should know: Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Gorsuch and Sotomayor.
Totenberg’s story accused Gorsuch of being “prickly” and all but said he was intentionally disrespecting Sotomayor:
“Sotomayor has diabetes, a condition that puts her at high risk for serious illness, or even death, from COVID-19,” Totenberg wrote. “She has been the only justice to wear a mask on the bench since last fall when, amid a marked decline in COVID-19 cases, the justices resumed in-person arguments for the first time since the onset of the pandemic.
“Now, though, the situation had changed with the omicron surge, and according to court sources, Sotomayor did not feel safe in close proximity to people who were unmasked. Chief Justice John Roberts, understanding that, in some form asked the other justices to mask up.
“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.
“Gorsuch, from the beginning of his tenure, has proved a prickly justice, not exactly beloved even by his conservative soulmates on the court.”
Later that night on Fox News’ Special Report with Bret Baer, Shannon Bream, Fox News’ legal correspondent, challenged the accuracy of the Totenberg story, citing her own sources.
Then, on the 19th, Justice Gorsuch and Justice Sotomayor released a statement at odds with the mask story. SCOTUSblog tweeted: “JUST IN. SCOTUS releases a short joint statement from Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch: ‘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.’”
And just to add an exclamation point to the refutation of NPR’s smear piece, Chief Justice Roberts also released a statement through the Supreme Court’s media office. Again from SCOTUSblog: “More developments on the mask spat — SCOTUS issues ANOTHER statement, this one from the chief justice: ‘I did not request Justice Gorsuch or any other Justice to wear a mask on the bench.’ Unlike the earlier statement, this one directly disputes the original report from NPR.”
But instead of admitting its sources were erroneous and retracting the story, NPR doubled down on its report, as NPR reporter Nina Totenberg tweeted: “NPR stands by my reporting.” Then, to make matters worse, NPR reporter David Gura questioned whether the Supreme Court justices were telling the truth.
“I surprised [sic] at how many Supreme Court correspondents I admire are passing along a statement from two justices that is at best false without any context whatsoever,” Gura tweeted.
This bizarre story simply underscores what most conservatives believe about NPR already. For an entity receiving taxpayer funding, it unquestionably leans left in its reporting. And its latest hit piece regarding Justice Gorsuch should be rightly condemned.
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