Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court convened in person for the first time since the omicron surge over the holidays. All the justices were now wearing masks — except for Justice Neil Gorsuch. Justice Sonia Sotomayor was not even there, participating instead by microphone from her chambers.
Because she has diabetes, Sotomayor is at high risk for serious illness, or even death, from COVID-19. She had 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.
But with the omicron surge, Sotomayor did not feel safe near unmasked people. Out of respect for her compromised status, Chief Justice John Roberts asked the other justices to mask up. They all did, except for Gorsuch, who sits next to Sotomayor on the bench. His refusal has meant that Sotomayor has not attended the justices' weekly conference in person, joining instead by telephone.
It is hard to imagine a bigger shit. But we should not be surprised. COVID has revealed a deep strain of “to hell with you, it’s all about me” assholiness in America.
If Gorsuch feels so strongly about not wearing a mask, he could have done the decent thing and been the justice who attended remotely. But he places his convenience above the risk to a fellow justice's health and life.
I have worked with a variety of people. The majority have been decent and honest, who do their job without knowingly making their coworkers’ lives harder. But some have used imaginary medical conditions to lighten their job load without regard to the impact on others. However, I doubt Sotomayor is lying about being diabetic. And statistically, it is undeniable that diabetes exacerbates COVID symptoms and leads to worse outcomes for sufferers. But even knowing that, Gorsuch tends to his own needs, as small as they are, over a coworker’s, as big as they are.
It is hard to spot a miserable human being by appearance alone. And Gorsuch looks like a regular, late middle-aged, white guy. He does not wear a MAGA hat - and you will not find him waving a confederate flag. But under that anodyne appearance lives a monumentally miserable human being who, reports suggest, irritates his fellow justices, both liberal and conservative. And, even on a Court that features Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, he may be the most reactionary and doctrinaire conservative.
Most Americans will find his selfishness incredible, but it is typical of his kind. One trait common to every conservative is a sociopathic lack of empathy. Baby Boomers earned the epithet the “me generation”. Today’s conservatives should be called the “neo-me generation”.
Individually they resist measures — vaccination, mask-wearing, social distancing, etc. — that protect their fellow citizens. And they vote for politicians who will to enact their selfishness into law. Politicians who refuse the Medicaid expansion, denying medical coverage to the ‘near poor’. Politicians who resist mandating a living wage, while promoting Orwellian-named “right to work laws” which depress worker pay. Politicians who deny a woman’s right to autonomy over her own body. And politicians who cut back on work safety measures, food inspection budgets, and environmental regulations — sacrificing the health and well-being of the average citizen on the altar of corporate profits.
Christopher Hitchens once said of libertarianism, “I have always found it quaint and rather touching that there is a movement [Libertarians] in the US that thinks Americans are not yet selfish enough.” He was being glibly sardonic. But he has illuminated a truth about a segment of American society. There is no consideration of what they can do for their country or their fellow citizens. Their concern is only for the “natural rights” that a convenient God and their interpretation of the Constitution has bestowed on them.
I do not know how Gorsuch sleeps at night. But then I am not a conservative.