Justice Sonia Sotomayor Is Only Member of Supreme Court to Wear Mask as In-Person Arguments Resume

Sotomayor, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 8, has said managing the disease has taught her discipline and to pay close attention to her body

Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Photo: ERIN SCHAFF/POOL/AFP via Getty

As a new term began Monday for the U.S. Supreme Court, its justices returned to the bench for the first time in 18 months.

Their unusually long absence from the courtroom was due to the coronavirus pandemic, which kept one judge away and another in a mask.

While Justice Brett Kavanaugh, 54, participated remotely because of a symptom-free, breakthrough case of COVID-19, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, 67, was the only member of the court who wore a mask, according to reports from inside the courtroom.

Sotomayor, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 8, has said managing the disease has taught her discipline and to pay close attention to her body.

"I have the job of my dreams — it's a cool job," Justice Sotomayor told children with type 1 diabetes in 2011, adding that "diabetes is a constant part of my life."

In her memoir, My Beloved World, she wrote about giving herself daily shots of insulin as a child.

On Monday, the justices heard arguments in a case involving water rights in Mississippi and Tennessee as they began a term that is likely to impact highly charged issues like gun ownership, the death penalty and abortion access — including a case in which the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that established a constitutional right to abortion could be overturned.

Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court. Zach Gibson/Getty

The courtroom is currently closed to the public until further notice as part of safety measures in place to prevent the spread of virus.

Lawyers are required to be tested for COVID-19 and asked to wear N95 masks except when presenting their arguments. Credentialed journalists are also allowed inside the courtroom with similar requirements.

A masked Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired from the court in 2018, was in the courtroom on Monday, seated in a section reserved for visiting dignitaries, The New York Times reported.

Amy Coney Barrett
From left: Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett is sworn at the White House. Nicholas Kamm/getty images

Monday also marked the first day of in-person arguments for Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump and confirmed in a razor-thin vote by the U.S. Senate in the final days of Trump's term.

The court last heard arguments in person in March of 2020, which meant that hearings during Barrett's entire first term were conducted done by phone.

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