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Russian oil sanctions, Supreme Court hears an LGBTQ case, Arizona certifies election

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

This is the day much of the world says it will get serious about blocking Russian oil profits.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The European Union bans Russian oil as of today. Russia will continue selling oil elsewhere in the world, but as we've reported, Europe has a plan to cut the oil profits that power Russia's war in Ukraine. Europe dominates the insurance industry and won't insure oil tankers unless the oil price is very low.

INSKEEP: All of this could affect global oil markets, depending on what the world's other producers do, and NPR's international affairs correspondent Jackie Northam is following that. Jackie, good morning.

JACKIE NORTHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK. OPEC Plus, these major oil producers - Saudi Arabia and so forth - met and decided they're not going to do anything yet having to do with their production amounts, which can affect the price of oil around the world. Why?

NORTHAM: Well, largely because OPEC Plus isn't certain what's going to happen now that the Western bans are taking effect. As you said, all seaborne imports of Russian oil to EU countries is banned as of today. And remember - before the Ukraine war, Europe was Russia's largest oil customer. And then there's the G-7 price caps on Russian crude sold throughout the rest of the world, and that's set at $60 a barrel. So you're talking about the potential of a million, 2 million barrels coming off the market. You can imagine the impact on prices. But, you know, it's uncertain if that will happen. We could see some major shifts in the global oil market. We just don't know. It seems OPEC Plus wants to wait and see how this is going to play out. And, you know, it has said that it is ready to meet again at any time to make changes if necessary.

INSKEEP: As you have told us, Europe has the power, since they control the insurance industry. But is Russia really going to allow its profits to be cut this way?

NORTHAM: Well, you know, oil is Russia's main moneymaker, so obviously, it wants to keep selling it. But, you know, Vladimir - President Vladimir Putin has long warned Russia will not sell any to countries taking part in this price cap, and that was repeated yesterday by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak. You know, Russia has options, frankly. The way the cap is supposed to be enforced is that no tanker will be insured if it's selling at a price higher than the cap. But analysts I've spoken to say Russia has amassed about a hundred oil tankers, you know, a lot of refurbished ships that they're putting back on the water. And they're described as a shadow fleet of vessels. And these will help move some of Russia's oil, circumventing the cap, even if it's not the same amount that they traditionally have produced and exported, you know, which means you could be looking at Russia having to shut down wells if they can't get all the oil out and - something that Russians say they're prepared to do if they have to.

INSKEEP: Some people will be asking, because they drive cars or whatever, what about me? What's this mean for me? So how could Europe and the United States keep all of these efforts from raising global oil prices and wrecking Western economies?

NORTHAM: Well, there's certainly no guarantees. And you could see, you know, some effects immediately. But, you know, the EU ban on seaborne imports of Russian oil is set in stone, Steve. There's no going back on that. And Russia has been slowly weaning itself on oil and trying to set up new countries to get its oil. The G-7 price - plan for the price cap, that's never been tried before. So we're going to have to see how that works. But there's a lot of weak points and loopholes in the plan, particularly some of its major - Russia's major customers, such as China, India and Turkey. You know, they've been on a buying spree of heavily discounted Russian oil. They've not signed on to the plan at all. So we're going to have to see how this shakes out.

INSKEEP: NPR's Jackie Northam. Thanks so much.

NORTHAM: Thanks so much, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Today the U.S. Supreme Court hears the case of a businessperson who does not want to service same-sex weddings.

MARTIN: It's a challenge to Colorado's public accommodations law. Many states have laws that prohibit discrimination, including against same-sex couples. This case alleges that some businesspeople are artists who should not have to use their talents to express a message they don't believe in. Courts have heard this argument before, but this particular set of Supreme Court justices has not.

INSKEEP: NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg is covering this case. Hey there, Nina.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Hey there, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are the facts?

TOTENBERG: Well, Lorie Smith is a Colorado web designer who, for the past decade, has designed all manner of custom websites for clients. Here she is.

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LORIE SMITH: The pieces that I create are art. They're one of a kind. They're unique. I cannot create something that violates the core of what I believe.

TOTENBERG: And what she believes, Steve, is that marriage should be only between a man and a woman. So she doesn't do any web designs for weddings at all. And she loves weddings, and so she wants to do that work. Now she's preemptively challenging Colorado over its public accommodations law, even before launching a wedding website. Here's Colorado's state attorney general, Philip Weiser.

PHILIP WEISER: If you open up your doors and you say you're serving the public, you have to serve everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, religion, race, gender.

TOTENBERG: In other words, the state, he says, doesn't care what messages you create, but once you sell a product or a service, you have to sell it to whomever knocks on your door.

INSKEEP: OK, so how is that not discrimination, if Smith says she's happy to service weddings, just not same-sex weddings?

TOTENBERG: Smith says she's happy to work for LGBT clients on other matters and that she's refused other clients based on their message. She's refused political messages, for instance, anti-American messages, racist messages. But those aren't protected groups under the state law, and sexual orientation is a protected group. So once she offers a wedding web design service, she has to serve all comers. The state basically says it has created a neutral law that applies to all businesses equally.

INSKEEP: Well, let's develop that argument further then. What is the case for making someone create that website or some other service?

TOTENBERG: The state says she isn't a speaker in a public park on a soapbox; she's providing a service. And if she provides wedding web design services, she has to provide them for everyone. Think of it this way, Steve. Suppose you hire a wedding photographer, and she tries to change your vows. She'd be acting like the wedding is hers. But, in fact, she's selling a service, and she has to provide it equally to everyone under the state law. Lorie Smith counters that she doesn't lose her free speech rights when she tries to earn a living, and just as a Democratic speechwriter wouldn't want to write a speech for Donald Trump, she doesn't want to do web designs for same-sex marriages, and the state can't compel her to do that.

INSKEEP: Well, people are naturally going to take this argument to the next step if it carries. So suppose a wedding photographer, a web designer can refuse to service a same-sex marriage, and then they say they don't want to provide services to an interracial couple because they disagree with that kind of marriage.

TOTENBERG: Well, that's the big question, Steve, and one that I'm sure is going to be asked at the Supreme Court today because the problem in this case is finding some sort of a limiting principle that would prevent the creation of a giant loophole in public accommodations laws.

INSKEEP: NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. We'll be listening for your coverage. Thanks.

TOTENBERG: Thanks, Steve.

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INSKEEP: Arizona certifies its midterm election results today.

MARTIN: They plan to affirm the vote of the people, despite an effort to stop it. Republican officials in a rural county had refused to certify their local results by the legal deadline. The move set off multiple lawsuits and was the most dramatic effort this year to reject a democratic election.

INSKEEP: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang joins us to talk about this. Good morning.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What exactly happens today in Arizona?

WANG: The state's top election official, Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, is expected to meet with Arizona's governor, attorney general and the chief justice of the state Supreme Court, as required by state law, to certify every county's election results and declare them official. And if that sounds mundane, it usually is. It's a ceremonial step that usually doesn't get much attention. But it is different this time because of what happened in this county, in the southeastern corner of Arizona, near Tucson. It's called Cochise County.

INSKEEP: What happened there?

WANG: You know, there are no legitimate problems found in the county's election results, but Republicans on the county's board of supervisors delayed certifying them and missed the legal deadline. And so a state judge ordered the board late last week to do its job under law and certify and, you know, just so that more than 47,000 people's votes would not be left out of Arizona's official midterm election results.

INSKEEP: OK, ultimately, they were forced to do that. Now the process goes ahead, as required by law. But will there be any consequences for the Republican county officials who tried to block it?

WANG: That's a big looming question right now. The secretary of state's office has asked for an investigation by Arizona's attorney general and the Cochise County attorney because these Republican officials almost disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters in their own county. Now, I talked to a former Arizona attorney general, Terry Goddard, who's a Democrat. Goddard joined a former Maricopa County attorney, who's a Republican, and they had been calling for an investigation because they say these Republican officials likely broke at least three criminal laws by willfully refusing to do their legal duty to certify these election results. And Goddard told me that, you know, even though the county ended up certifying the results late, these Republicans, he said, should be held accountable for missing the deadline.

TERRY GODDARD: It's like giving the money back after committing armed robbery. You still committed the crime even if the money gets returned to the victim. And I think that's very much the case here.

WANG: Now, I should point out that many election watchers around the country are watching this case in Arizona very closely because there's a fear that if these Republicans are not held accountable, it could encourage election deniers in other parts of the country to try to delay or stop the certification process for future elections, including in 2024.

INSKEEP: OK, so Arizona is set for the moment. Katie Hobbs, the Democrat who is secretary of state, you mentioned, becomes governor; Mark Kelly keeps his job as senator. A lot of other officials win their elections, Republicans as well as Democrats. That's set. And now we're at the far end of an election season where people feared there'd be a lot of disputes over elections, a lot of lawsuits, a lot of rejected results. How bad was it, ultimately?

WANG: Not as bad, not as widespread as some election watchers had anticipated. So far, the controversy over certifying election results has mainly been in Arizona. There was another election certification delay I was tracking in Pennsylvania's Luzerne County. They ultimately certified two days late after Republicans there voted against certifying by the deadline, and the board deadlocked along party lines because one of the Democrats decided not to vote initially. But again, for the most part, making the midterm election results official, this has gone relatively smoothly.

INSKEEP: Hansi, always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

WANG: You're very welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.