The Supreme Court does not seem like a great work environment right now.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of just three liberals on the nation’s high court, has diabetes and, given the unprecedented surge of COVID-19 with the Omicron variant, is reportedly uncomfortable being in close quarters with people who are unmasked, according to a new report from NPR.
Chief Justice John Roberts asked the other justices to wear masks, but Neil Gorsuch, the justice who sits next to Sotomayor on the bench, reportedly refused.
Sotomayor participated in oral arguments virtually from her chambers earlier this month, as the Supreme Court heard a challenge to the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate. Sotomayor is also dialing in to the Supreme Court’s weekly conferences, according to NPR.
The conservative-majority Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for large employers last week but left in place the mandate for healthcare workers. In a dissent, Sotomayor and fellow liberals Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan said that the court’s decision to strike down the large-employer mandate “stymies the Federal Government’s ability to counter the unparalleled threat that COVID–19 poses to our Nation’s workers” and “displaces the judgments of the Government officials given the responsibility to respond to workplace health emergencies.”
Gorsuch not only voted to strike down the large employer mandate, but, along with Justices Samuel Alito and Amy Coney Barrett, also joined a dissent written by Justice Clarence Thomas arguing that the mandate for healthcare workers should also be struck down.
“These cases are not about the efficacy or importance of COVID–19 vaccines,” Thomas wrote. “They are only about whether CMS has the statutory authority to force healthcare workers, by coercing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure they do not want and cannot undo.”
Sotomayor’s concerns and Roberts’ request came as the Omicron variant resulted in the worst surge yet in Washington, D.C., where the Supreme Court is located. Though there are positive signs that cases have peaked in D.C., the district has had more than 80 percent of its hospital beds occupied since the beginning of the year, according to D.C. health data.
Sotomayor, who was confirmed to the Supreme Court in 2009, is 67 years old. All of the justices are vaccinated and have received booster shots, the Supreme Court confirmed earlier this month, but those who have diabetes “are more likely to have serious complications from COVID-19,” according to the American Diabetes Association.
The Supreme Court is hearing another round of oral arguments Tuesday, and Sotomayor is once again participating from her chambers. The Supreme Court's public information office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“The unvaccinated worker affects other unvaccinated workers but [also] affects vaccinated workers. We have proof of that with Omicron,” Sotomayor said during oral arguments earlier this month. “And it's not just death, but there is illness, and for many with preexisting conditions or immunological problems, there are severe consequences even when vaccinated.”