Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has diabetes, elevating her risk for serious illness or death should she contract Covid-19. Sotomayor said recently that she doesn’t feel comfortable sitting next to unmasked justices as the highly transmissible Omicron variant surges, so Chief Justice John Roberts asked the court to wear masks.
Justice Neil Gorsuch, who sits directly next to Sotomayor on the bench, refused to do so, pushing Sotomayor to do her job remotely when the court reconvened this month.
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NPR reported Monday on the rift inside SCOTUS, which is currently operating under a conservative supermajority that liberal justices are worried is laying waste to precedent, particularly when it comes to abortion rights. “Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts? I don’t see how it is possible,” Sotomayor said last month during arguments for a case that could set the stage for the court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
It isn’t just abortion rights. The court last week blocked the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for the nation’s largest employers. The mandate would have covered around two-thirds of the nation’s workforce. The court ruled against it, 6-3. The six votes to slap it down came from the court’s six conservative justices, who argued that Covid doesn’t represent an “occupational hazard.”
Sotomayor and fellow liberals Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer released a joint dissenting opinion in which they took aim at the majority. “When we are wise, we know enough to defer on matters like this one,” they wrote. “When we are wise, we know not to displace the judgments of experts, acting within the sphere Congress marked out and under Presidential control, to deal with emergency conditions. Today, we are not wise. In the face of a still-raging pandemic, this Court tells the agency charged with protecting worker safety that it may not do so in all the workplaces needed. As disease and death continue to mount, this Court tells the agency that it cannot respond in the most effective way possible. Without legal basis, the Court usurps a decision that rightfully belongs to others. It undercuts the capacity of the responsible.”
Gorsuch may not care about the health of his colleague on the court, but at least he’s consistent. He doesn’t seem to care much about the health of tens of millions of other Americans, either.
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