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Vox Sentences: You dope some, you lose some

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The Supreme Court hears arguments in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case; Brexit talks hit a major snag; Russia gets banned from the 2018 Winter Olympics.

A piece of cake

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
  • The Supreme Court heard arguments on one of its most high-profile cases this term, about a Colorado baker named Jack Phillips who refused to bake a cake for a gay wedding couple, citing his religious beliefs. [SCOTUSblog / Amy Howe]
  • A final ruling is months away, but the big takeaway from today is that the Court is divided on the central question in this case: whether Phillips’s refusal to bake the cake in question is part of his First Amendment right to free speech and free expression. [Vox / German Lopez]
  • Lower courts in Colorado have already said no on this question, ruling that Phillips’s stance violates a state anti-discrimination law. And the case is about far more than wedding cakes; there’s a larger debate over LGBTQ rights, as there have been numerous other circumstances of gay couples being denied services while planning a wedding. [NYT / Kirk Johnson]
  • There are also significant implications for “religious liberty” in the country, as attorneys for Phillips are basically arguing that religious observance shouldn’t be limited to a place of worship but should also extend into a place of business. [Vox / Tara Isabella Burton]
  • Justice Anthony Kennedy is widely viewed as the swing vote in this case, as the liberal and conservative wings are likely to split on the issue. [Vox / Ella Nilsen]
  • So how will Kennedy vote? It was really tough to tell from today’s arguments, because Kennedy aggressively questioned lawyers from both sides, giving no indication what his final position might be. We should know more by this summer. [Washington Post / Robert Barnes and Ann E. Marimow]

Northern Ireland throws a wrench in Brexit talks

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
  • The Northern Irish government is causing British Prime Minister Theresa May a major headache as she tries to finalize Brexit negotiations with the European Union. [BBC]
  • Brexit talks were derailed today as the conservative Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party voted down a deal, leaving May scrambling to pick up the pieces in the next few days. [Washington Post / Michael Birnbaum and William Booth]
  • The issue that blew up the negotiations was a question of the status of the border between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and Ireland (part of the European Union). The pressing question was whether the border between the two would remain in the EU’s “single market,” which allows for a free flow of goods, people, and services among its countries. [ / Victoria Craw]
  • The initial solution proposed would have allowed that to happen, but the Democratic Unionists were not happy with the idea, saying that as part of the UK, they didn't want any deal that gave them an economic advantage over the rest of the UK. [NYT / Stephen Castle]
  • May allied herself with the Democratic Unionist Party earlier this year to form a coalition government, but that now appears to be backfiring. [Independent / Ben Kentish]
  • This latest blowup is leaving May's grip on power looking more tenuous. She has four more days to try to get negotiations back on track, with EU officials complaining she isn’t saying clearly what Britain wants out of the talks and is complicating the procedure. [Guardian / Jennifer Rankin and Patrick Wintour]

Russia gets frozen out of the 2018 Winter Olympics

Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
  • Russia has been completely shut out of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea for doping in the 2014 Olympics, after a ruling issued by the International Olympic Committee today. [NPR / Bill Chappell]
  • Not only is the country banned from competing in the 2018 games but all appearances of Russia will be scrubbed from the proceedings. The flag will not fly and the national anthem won’t play during the opening ceremony, and Russian government officials will be barred from attending. [NYT / Rebecca Ruiz and Tariq Panja]
  • And even though Russian athletes who weren’t found to be doping can still compete in the games, they will have to do so independently. [Guardian / Sean Ingle]
  • This is a clear signal from the IOC that it won’t tolerate doping; it’s the harshest punishment the committee has doled out in its history, after it found Russia engaged in a state-sponsored doping program during the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. Russia also has to pay a $15 million fine. [BBC]
  • Russia usually picks up a lot of medals at the Olympics, particularly at the Winter Games. It won the most gold and silver medals at Sochi, but those medals were called into question after the doping was later uncovered. [ESPN / Bonnie Ford and T.J. Quinn]


  • Say a prayer for the motorists on I-66 in Virginia, who had to pay a whopping $40 toll during rush hour this morning. [Washington Post / Dana Hedgpeth]
  • Conservative black pundit Armstrong Williams wants to buy the storied (and now struggling) alt-weekly Washington City Paper, and some are skeptical that he can keep politics out of the sale. [Mother Jones / Andy Kroll and Russ Choma]
  • The environmentally conscious outdoor wear company Patagonia is getting fiercely political, accusing President Trump of “stealing” federal land when he downsized national monuments, and the company is preparing to sue the White House. [CNN Money / Sherisse Pham]
  • House of Cards will film its final season sans Kevin Spacey, meaning it’s officially the Claire Underwood Show now. [Guardian / Benjamin Lee]


Watch this: Europe’s most fortified border is in Africa

The death trap that separates Europe and Africa still can't stop everyone. You can watch the entire Borders series here. [YouTube / Johnny Harris]

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