In addition, Sotomayor has attended the conference sessions only for remote judges, a spokeswoman for the court confirmed. These sessions – where only the nine are allowed, no staff or hangers-on – are where the judges debate and essentially determine the legal direction of the country.
Since January, in the midst of the wave of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, all judges have been wearing masks on the bench, except Gorsuch. In the ornate courtroom, he sits next to Sotomayor.
Sotomayor, who suffers from diabetes as an underlying condition and would be at increased health risk if infected with Covid-19, attended oral arguments Tuesday far from her chambers, and plans to do so again Wednesday, according to a court spokesman.
By oral argument Tuesday, all the judges entered the courtroom wearing masks with the exception of Gorsuch. Other Conservative judges, including Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, occasionally took off their masks. The remaining two Liberal judges on the bench, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, kept their masks on even while asking questions.
Gorsuch smiled as he entered the courtroom to take his seat on Tuesday, engaging in a brief conversation with Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who was masked. Sotomayor’s chair remained empty and she attended over the phone.
According to Supreme Court rules, media covering the trial and lawyers arguing in court must wear masks, but there are no specific rules on masks for judges. All the judges have been fully vaccinated and received booster shots. They are also tested frequently.
CNN has asked the court to comment on Gorsuch not wearing a mask and Sotomayor’s decision to participate externally.
Another dynamic in the game is whether Breyer – as it is commonly assumed – will announce his retirement this period.
If he were to retire, the vacancy and eventually new confirmation meetings would again put the court in the spotlight in a politically charged time, a midterm election year, which would make even more aware of the court’s direction and call for a review of the court. More than one judge has previously noted that when one of them goes, it changes the entire court.
On the schedule
Already, the court has heard one of the most consequential cases in decades – a request from the Mississippi to overthrow Roe v. Wade and revoke a woman’s right to abortion, which was established decades ago.
Now the majority opinion has been assigned in the case, which was put forward on 1 December. By oral argument, Roberts proposed a petition that would allow the Mississippi law prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks to take effect, but let Roe become the books.
Although it did not seem to attract much attention from the right flank on the day of the argument, it could give rise to further discussion among the judges as the draft writing process unfolds. Ten days after the case was brought, the court in another case allowed a Texas law banning the procedure after six weeks to remain in effect. Although the court cleared a narrow path for abortion providers to challenge the law, supporters of abortion rights were left deeply appalled by the future of those rights. While judges at speaking events often talk about how much they appreciate politeness, the dissidents in the Texas case have not cut their words.
“The court thus betrays not only the citizens of Texas but also our constitutional system of government,” Sotomayor wrote to his Liberal colleagues. These tensions resurfaced in oral arguments on January 7, when Kagan pushed back to a lawyer who challenged President Joe Biden’s vaccine rules aimed at large employers. She was unusually animated: “This is a pandemic in which almost a million people have died. It is by far the greatest public health hazard that this country has faced in the last century. More and more people are dying every day. More and more people getting sick every day. I do not mean to be dramatic here. I’m just a kind of fact statement. ”
The court would end up blocking the claim with all three liberals in dissent.
Behind closed doors
While considering these cases and a full case, the judges also meet regularly behind closed doors to consider whether to add cases to the case – the meetings where Sotomayor now calls in from a distance.
In two conferences, they have already discussed a few major cases of positive action in appeals brought by a conservative group challenging the admission policies of Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which are considering race.
Again, judges are being asked to overturn the precedent – on an issue that deeply divides the public. Although they have not responded to that request, last week they agreed to hear a case brought by a high school football coach who was barred by the school district from leading prayers at the 50-yard line after football matches. They are also asked to take up the matter of a graphic designer who seeks to create websites to celebrate weddings but who does not want to work with same-sex couples based on same-sex religious objections.
In addition, Oklahoma is asking the court to overturn a recent ruling that determined much of the state – including parts of Tulsa – is Native American land for the purpose of federal criminal law. Critically, Oklahoma probably thinks it has a chance because since the 5-4 decision fell, Barrett has taken the seat of the late liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg. If the judges agree to take up the case, it will raise the question of whether the precedent should be reconsidered so quickly due to a change in the court’s membership.
Emergency petitions and Trump requests
Judges are not just juggling their cases and awaiting certificate applications. They are also considering urgent applications asking them to act without full information on cases on an expedited basis. Abortion providers in Texas, such as still afraid of the court’s decision to allow state law to remain in force, asks the judges to demand that a conservative federal appeals court send the remainder of the case back to a district court judge who ruled in their favor at an earlier stage of the case. The judges have not said anything.
Arizona wants the court to allow a law banning doctors from performing abortions based on genetic abnormalities such as Down syndrome to take effect before an appeals court has fully heard the case. The High Court has said nothing.
Trump’s lawyers are asking the judges to block the release to a congressional committee of White House documents related to the U.S. Capitol attack on January 6, 2021. Trump claims the materials are protected under executive privileges, even though the current president disagrees.
Judges often say that even though they disagree on paper, they are proud of politeness. At a video conference event last year with Sotomayor, Gorsuch noted that the court is made up of people from “across the country” with “radically different life experiences” who share a love for the country.
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